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Zao Onsen, Yamagata, is about 40 minutes by bus from Yamagata Station. There is a bus ever hour, so it's easily accessible. The resort offers leisurely activities throughout the year, from snow sports in winter to trekking in summer. Zao Onsen is said to have opened 1,900 years ago, making it one of the oldest in Japan.
The onsen town is small enough to walk around; in fact, you'll see people onsen-hopping in their yukata. Wearing yukata will add to the excitement of your visit. An overnight stay in town is recommended if you plan to go onsen-hopping, because you can also rent a yukata at most hotels.
The hot spring water of Zao Onsen is quite acidic, and the smell of sulphur engulfs the entire town. The sulphuric spring boosts circulation and sterilizes superficial bacteria, so is said to make your skin beautiful. The onsen town has three public baths for one-time visitors. Hours are 6:00-22:00, open from early morning to late at night.
This is a public bath. There's a post box at the entrance for you to put in the 200-yen admission fee. The onsen water is about 45 degrees, quite hot, so it's best to pour lots of the water over your body first to get used to the temperature before you soak in the tub. If you're not so keen on hot onsen, try five other non-public baths.
There are also three foot baths in town, which will keep you warm even if you don't soak in the onsen. You can enjoy any foot bath easily - just remove your shoes and socks! There are many nerve points in the feet associated with internal organs, so when you warm your feet, all your internal organs will warm up too, allegedly promoting a healthy metabolism. Foot baths are free of charge, so give them a try!

Zao Onsen is a gourmet mecca. Enjoy eating out as well as the onsen.

You'll see a lot of konjac balls in Zao Onsen. There are pots at the entrance of many stores in town, with the konjac simmering in a soy-sauce soup. The konjac balls will be served on a skewer.
Konjac has no calories, contains no oil, and is a perfect aid for dieters. It is also a great snack and Yamagata's soul food. One skewer goes for about 100-150 yen. Take a stroll through the onsen town while munching on the konjac. It'll be really cool.
You'll also see plenty of signboards in town advertising igamochi. This is another famous food from Zao Onsen. It's a cute, traditional confectionery consisting of a white rice cake topped with yellow rice grains.
This rice cake is filled with smooth and sweet, sieved red-bean jam. Matched with the aroma of the bamboo leaf underneath, which also comes from Zao, it's a tasty Japanese treat. Igamochi hardens very quickly, so you can only eat it on the day it's made. There are many stores that make it, but be sure to try them in the morning because they usually sell out by the afternoon. Igamochi are at their best and smoothest when just made, so get in early and don't miss out. There are also souvenir-type igamochi to take home.
Yamagata's street gourmet food is this cold meat noodle dish. It comes with chicken and leeks in a rich, cold chicken soup. Cold means just room temperature, so many people enjoy it in winter. Though a simple dish, the soup has a distinct flavor that'll make you want more.
Mongolian mutton barbecue and buckwheat noodle on a wooden panel are also Yamagata's famous foods.
There are many restaurants in the Zao Onsen area serving cold meat noodles, so why not compare their flavors? A flavor that can't be enjoyed anywhere else is sure to delight everyone.
●Access to Zao Onsen Ski Resort:
[By bus]
About 100 minutes by highway bus from the Tohoku Shinkansen's Sendai station (bus terminal 76 at the east exit). The bus needs to be booked in advance.
About 40 minutes by Yamako bus from Yamagata station
[By car]
About 30 minutes from Yamagata Zao IC, Yamagata Expressway
phot & text : Megumi Ueda

Facility Information

Zao Onsen Ski Resort

Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata 990-2301

Zao Liza World

Bodaira kogen, Zao, Kamiyama-shi, Yamagata 999-3113

Zai Sarukura Ski Resort

2843-1 Zao Aza Zaozan, Kaminoyama-shi, Yamagata-ken, 999-3113