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Zaō Onsen (蔵王温泉), often simply called Zaō (蔵王), is a ski and hot spring resort in Yamagata, Japan, near the border with Miyagi.


Zao's main drag Juhyo Street in winter

Zao Onsen is a hot spring town nestled in the Zao Mountains (蔵王連峰 Zaō-renpō) famous for its cloudy blue sulfuric water. It is also known for its own kokeshi, the Zao Takayu kokeshi (see "Buy" for vendors). In the summer and autumn, the area is popular for hiking and visitors can go to Zao Crater just over the prefectural border. In the winter it's a popular place for skiing and viewing "Snow Monsters" (樹氷 juhyō, lit. "ice trees"), a name given to the snow-covered trees due to their strange creature-like appearance.

Be careful, Zao Town (蔵王町) is on the other side of the mountains, in Miyagi prefecture.

  • Zao Onsen Travel Association, 708-1 Zao Onsen. 09:00-17:30. A small building across from the Zao Onsen bus terminal with information about attractions, hot springs, and skiing in the Zao area.

Tourist information site


The local tourist association has a Japanese-only guide site with integrated Google Translate.

Get in

Map of Zao Onsen

Zao Onsen does not have its own train station, so virtually all visitors arrive via bus from Yamagata, 40 minutes away with services roughly hourly. Yamagata in turn can be reached from Tokyo via the Yamagata Shinkansen line (2 hr 30 min), or via limited domestic flights to Yamagata Airport, which also has direct buses to Zao. The other option is to travel to the nearest major city, Sendai, which has a larger airport with international services and is 70 min from Yamagata on the Senzan line.

During the ski season only, Jam Jam Liner runs a daily 8-hour overnight bus (service JX851) directly from Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Zao, with fares starting from ¥4700.

Get around


Zao Onsen is small enough to be walkable. Yamako Bus has limited local services to sightseeing spots.


  • 1 Warabe no Sato History and Culture Museum (わらべの里歴史と文化の美術館), 1138 Dosudaira Zao Onsen, +81 23-693-0093. 09:00-17:00 (closed Tu). A museum consisting of five buildings collected and over 1000 artifacts collected by a single man, Yaheiji Okazaki. Emperor Meiji stayed in one of the buildings, and imperial objects and items from Yamagata Castle's former lords are featured among many others. ¥700.



Hot springs

  • 1 Zao Onsen Dairotemburo (蔵王温泉大露天風呂), +81 23-694-9417. 06:00-19:00 (closed Dec to mid-April). An open-air hot spring (rotemburo) in an atmospheric forest enclave in the mountainside. It easily sets itself apart from other onsen in the country and consistently receives high ratings among visitors. ¥550.
  • 2 Genshichi Roten no Yu (源七露天の湯), +81 23-694-9251. 09:00-21:00. A hot spring with an outdoor rotemburo and an indoor bath. ¥450.


  • 3 Zao Onsen Ski Resort (蔵王温泉スキー場), +81 23-694-9215. Zao is Tohoku's largest ski resort and has been a popular ski destination for decades. The area features 32 lifts and a variety of options for skiers from first-timers to pros.


  • Zao Juhyo Festival (蔵王樹氷まつり), +81 23-647-2266. Even if you're not interested in skiing, Zao's Ski area attracts winter visitors for its famous juhyo, better known as "Snow Monsters". Of course there are no real monsters; the "snow monsters" are created by the heavy amount of snow covering the trees. The festival season begins in late December and continues through early March. There is a Light-Up on specific days during the event, including most of the month of February when the monsters are typically at their best. Other events occur randomly throughout the season.



Zao Onsen has an interesting selection of goods including Zao Takayu Kokeshi, one of 12 famous schools of kokeshi dolls in the Tohoku Region. There are a few shops where you can purchase them. Those interested can check the bottom of the kokeshi to learn which artist painted that doll. Different shops carry different artists' dolls.

  • 1 Notoya Kobo Eijiro (能登屋 工房 栄治郎), 36 Zao Onsen. The shop was founded by the reknowned kokeshi artist, Okazaki Ikuo as the place to purchase his kokeshi. He is among the most famous of the Zao Takayu kokeshi artists, and the shop features the widest selection of kokeshi with many sizes to choose from. It also offers some kokeshi from other artists, including those from other schools, so if either the artist or school are important to you, double-check before purchasing.
  • 2 Tanaka Kokeshiya (田中こけし店), 875-12 Zao Onsen, +81 23-694-9386. 08:30-21:00. A shop selling Zao Takayu kokeshi from some of the prominent local artists. There are also other kokeshi and souvenirs. They also offer a paint-your-own kokeshi experience for a fee until 5PM.



The Zao area is known for "Genghis Khan" (ジンギスカン jingisukan), the Japanese name for Mongolian barbecue, and one of the few dishes in Japan to use lamb.

  • 1 Genghis Khan Lodge (ジンギスカンロッジ), 758-2 Zaoonsen, +81 23-694-9546. Unsurprisingly, given the restaurant's name, Genghis Khan Lodge is one of the most famous places to indulge in this specialty.




  • 1 Zao Kokusai Hotel (蔵王国際ホテル), +81 23-694-2111. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. Offering Western-style and Japanese-style rooms, as well as suites. The hotel's onsen has made it one of the Zao Onsen's top hotels. It has both indoor and outdoor baths in a quiet, atmospheric setting. It's best to book on weekdays or book early as weekends tend to book out quickly. Typically ¥23,000-27,000.
  • 2 Meitoya-So (名湯舎 創), 48 Zao Onsen, +81 23-666-6531. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. A cozy hotel in Zao Onsen with its own onsen for guests. ¥7500-¥30000 per person.
  • 3 Takamiya (高見屋). A ryokan in Zao Onsen with private onsen in the rooms.



Go next

  • For most travelers, Yamagata is the only way out.
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