Situated on the border between Yamagata and Miyagi Prefectures is the Mount Zao volcanic mountain range. On the Yamagata side of the range, you will find the popular hot spring resort village of Zao Onsen. The area is known for having the most sulfuric hot springs in Japan, with a Ph value close to 1. In addition to the onsen available at the various hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) which dot the village, there are three public bathhouses and three open-air hot springs facilities.
One of these open air baths is Dai Rotenburo, built into the mountain ravine. For a fee of ¥450, visitors can enjoy its soothing waters and the remarkable scenery between the hours of 6:00 AM – 7:00 PM. Please note that this onsen is closed from late November to late April.
The village also features several ashiyu, (foot baths) where you sit while immersing your feet in the onsen water. The ashiyu are free of charge and attract many who are looking for a spot to simply rest and congregate after exploring the resort area.
People from all over the country and abroad come to Zao Onsen not only for its therapeutic waters but also for the Juhyo (ice monsters). The ice monsters are evergreen conifer trees located at the top of the mountain, which have frozen over. This natural phenomenon takes place during the coldest months, usually from late December to the middle of March. During the peak tourist season (New Year, weekends in January and all of February), the Juhyo are illuminated at night creating a unique scenery.
For skiers and snowboarders, the resort has fifteen different slopes and twelve courses with varying degrees of difficulty from beginners to experts including children and seniors. The slopes are accessible via three rope ways and 35 chair lifts.
The resort is popular year round. From spring until fall, visitors can take advantage of the countless trekking and sightseeing paths. Mountain guides are available to guide hikers to different vantage points and various areas of interest. The signage is in English, Korean and Chinese as well as Japanese and makes navigating the resort relatively easy.
Zao Onsen is just 40 minutes by bus from the Yamagata train station (approximately 2 ½ hours from Tokyo).