Best time to travel to Japan

Zao Snow Monsters in Japan

If you suppose these are man-carved ice blocks, you underestimate the talents of nature—the snow monsters appear on their own

Best time: January–February

Zao Snow Monsters
Zao Snow Monsters
Zao Snow Monsters
Zao Snow Monsters

Besides it's a well-known skiing and spa resort in the north of Japan, Zao Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture is also famed for its snow monsters that draw more travellers than the slopes themselves. Variously-shaped "monsters" also known as "Juhyo" stand still, lining the skiing slopes and forming unique and spectacular scenery for skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers.

And what are these enormous snow figurines? In fact, in warmer times of year, you will see an evergreen conifer forest there. But under loads of snow, super cool drizzle, and strong non-stop winds, the trees gradually turn into what is named snow monsters.

The first signs of snow monsters are observed in late December when the trees are coated into ice. In January the monsters put on some weight, covering more and more into snow. Japanese love to name those "shrimp tails". The peak is February, that's when the snow monsters are truly huge. And in March the statues start melting down, finaly freeing the conifers that have been trapped in ice-and-snow box for three months.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Zao Onsen to see the snow monsters?

To witness the snow monsters in Zao Onsen, visit from mid-January to late February and book accommodations few months in advance given the high influx of tourists during winter. Show more

Where is Zao Onsen located in Japan?

Zao Onsen is a village renowned for its ski resort in northern Japan’s Tohoku Region lying in the Yamagata Prefecture, about 40 km away from Yamagata City accessible via Yamagata Shinkansen, while a taxi can directly take you to the resort. Show more

How do the evergreen trees turn into snow monsters?

The process yielding the incredible snow monsters atop Mt. Zao involves the interplay of heavy snow on trees, winds, and super cool mountain mists. The subsequent freezing and heavy snow accumulation on the trees forms origami-like folds, shapes, and monstrous structures that culminate in the incredible snow monsters between January and March, when up to four meters of snow hits the area. Show more

What is the peak period to see the biggest snow monsters in Zao Onsen?

February is the peak viewing period to witness the fully formed snow monsters measuring about 5-15 meters tall. The trees' coverage by snow is at the heaviest, allowing for the most bizarre and fascinating shapes. Additionally, during this month, the Zao Onsen Snow Monster Festival usually takes place, featuring activities and illuminations around the snow monsters at night. Show more

Is skiing or snowboarding necessary to see the snow monsters?

There are several ways to enjoy the snow monsters on Mt. Zao without skiing or snowboarding. You can opt for a snowmobile, takkyubin, or stroll through the Zao Echo Line Promenade to enjoy the beautiful snow creatures on foot. Bus tours are available from Yamagata or Sendai for the snow monster experience as an alternative. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin