Hot Springs and Snowy Sights in the Winter Wonderland of Tohoku

The Tohoku region is a treasure trove of some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Japan. In winter, the area is covered with fine powder snow and many ski resorts open their doors. Plenty of hot spring resorts are also around near the ski slopes with many skiers heading to a hot spring to relax after a day of skiing. In this article, we will showcase three ski resorts perfect for long stays and where you can also mix in some local sightseeing. Discover wonderful snow, hot springs, sightseeing, and delicious food in Tohoku!

Slopes with a stunning lake view at Tazawako Ski Resort in Akita Prefecture

Tazawako Ski Resort
30 minutes by bus from Tazawako Station is Tazawako Ski Resort. Situated halfway up Akita Komagatake (Mt. Akita), its vast slopes can be enjoyed by all ages. Its ungroomed snow courses are perfect for advanced skiers, while the snow park, and "Chibikko Hiroba" are great for kids to have fun and enjoy sledding. The view from the slopes is breathtaking, with "Lake Tazawa," a famous lake with stunning cobalt blue waters, where the snow-covered mountains are reflected on the surface of the lake. A regular bus service runs between Tazawako Station and Tazawako Ski Resort.

The "Tazawako Kogen Snow Festival" is usually held in mid-February and offers many fun events, such as the "Soup Bowl Grand Prix" and a snow sculpture contest. The festival is only held for two days, but if you happen to find yourself around this place at the right time, come down and have some fun.

More information about Tazawako Snow Resort here

After skiing, stay at Nyuto Onsenkyo

Lake Tazawa in winter
Tazawako Ski Resort is surrounded by some of the best hot spring resorts in Akita Prefecture, including Tazawako Kogen Onsenkyo, Mizusawa Onsenkyo, and Nyuto Onsenkyo. Fortunately, all of these hot spring resorts are not far from the slopes, with Tazawako Kogen Onsenkyo and Mizusawa Onsenkyo only about 8 minutes away by car, and Nyuto Onsenkyo about 20 minutes. Here we will introduce you some of the recommended places to stay in Nyuto Onsenkyo, one of the most popular and famous hot springs in the Tohoku region.

Nyuto Onsen in winter
Nyuto Onsenkyo is famous for its seven hot springs. One worth staying at is "Kyukamura Nyuto Onsenkyo," a peaceful modern inn surrounded by a tranquil beech forest. Two different types of spring water flow freely from the source. The open-air bath, surrounded by the beech forest, is the perfect way to relax your body and soul. Dinner is served buffet style, offering about 40 sumptuous and creative dishes, with Akita specialties and local cuisine made with seasonal ingredients.

You can also try your hand at a number of activities offering a sample of Akita culture here, such as making coasters out of natural Akita cedar and birdcalls out of beech wood. After a relaxing hot spring bath, try your hand at these activities in the evening in this homely inn.

Tour the seven hot springs and explore Kakunodate

Tsurunoyu Onsen
For hot spring fans, we highly recommend the "Yumeguri-cho" pass book to tour the hot springs. The "Yumeguri-go" bus service makes it easy to get around to several hot springs. While some hot springs, such as Kuroyu and Magoroku, are closed during the winter, you can still enjoy other unique hot springs in turn, including Taenoyu, Ogama, Ganiba, and the 400-year-old wooden Tsurunoyu Onsen.

Hinai Jidori Oyakodon
Also, 15 minutes away from Tazawako Station by Shinkansen, or 25 minutes by the local Tazawako Line, is Kakunodate, a castle town that flourished during the Edo period (1603-1867). A 15 to 20-minute walk from the station will take you to the samurai residence street, an area lined with old traditional buildings from the samurai period. The streets are covered with snow during winter for a magical scenery. Hop on a rickshaw for a ride around the town (reservations are required during the winter season) and experience how people go around back then. For lunch, enjoy the local delicacies of Kakunodate such as Hinai Jidori Oyakodon, Okariba-yaki, and Inaniwa udon.

Namari Onsen Ski Resort, Hanamaki-shi in Iwate Prefecture is perfect for beginners

Namari Onsen Ski Resort, Hanamaki-shi Slope
Namari Onsen Ski Resort, Hanamaki-shi has only 5 courses in total, but they are well-balanced. From a 6-degree incline in average for beginners to maximum incline of 32 degrees for advanced skiers, the courses can be enjoyed by skiers looking to step up their skills little by little. The resort is about 20 minutes from the Hanamaki Minami Interchange on the Tohoku Expressway, and about 32 minutes by bus from JR Hanamaki Station.

Child riding a lift
A great thing about this ski resort is that it is a perfect environment for beginners to practice and make their first foray on the slopes. This ski resort enjoys mild weather conditions and the lifts are guaranteed to be smoothly operating at all times. Even beginners and small children can enjoy skiing without worrying too much. A free snowboard lesson for beginners is offered by instructors every Saturday and Sunday (limited to five people on a first-come, first-served basis on the day), so if you're interested, be sure to go early to apply.

More information about Namari Onsen Ski Resort, Hanamaki-shi here

Visit Hanamaki Onsenkyo to enjoy its hot springs

Lodging at Namari Onsen
Hanamaki Onsenkyo is one of the best hot spring resorts in Tohoku, with 12 unique hot spring resorts including Hanamaki Onsen, Namari Onsen, and Yamanokami Onsen. Many inns are lined up along the Daigawa and Toyosawa Rivers. Airinkan has 17 different hot spring baths and the 230-year-old Namari Onsen Fujisan Ryokan are within walking distance from Namari Onsen Ski Resort. A 10- to 20-minute drive will take you to popular hot spring hotels such as Hotel Koyokan, with its open-air rock bath, and Yunomori Hotel Shidotaira, which boasts a variety of baths, including an open-air bath along a mountain stream.

Sky Lantern
In the evening, head to the "Hanamaki Night around the stars," an event exclusively for guests of Hanamaki Onsen's hot spring facilities. This is a popular winter event where lanterns are lit and released into the night sky. The sight of countless glowing lanterns floating above the snowy landscape is a truly magnificent sight. A total of five such events will take place in January and February, so be sure to check the schedule and join in the fun.

Discover the magical world of Miyazawa Kenji in his hometown of Hanamaki

Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Museum
Hanamaki is famous as the hometown of Miyazawa Kenji, the author of "Night on the Galactic Railroad" and many other children's stories and poems. Around Hanamaki and Shin-Hanamaki stations, there are many places where you can experience the world of Kenji and his fairy tales, such as the Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Museum, the Miyazawa Kenji Dowa Mura (Village of Fairy Tales), and the Miyazawa Kenji Ihatov Museum. You can also buy souvenirs or sit down for some tea or coffee at the cafe spaces in these museums.

Wanko soba
For lunch, head to Yabuya Sohonten, a popular wanko soba restaurant that has been running since 1923. Wanko soba is a specialty of Hanamaki where a small portion of soba is placed in your bowl, and the server keeps adding more soba to the bowl each time you finish each portion. If you are a soba noodles lover or a glutton, try finishing 100 bowls to be recognized as a "Yokozuna."

Families and children can play together at Zao Liza World in Yamagata Prefecture

Child sledding
Zao Liza World boasts some of the finest powder snow in Yamagata Prefecture. If you go up to the top of the 1,446-meter-high mountain, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the area covered entirely in ice! From there, you can ski down the intermediate course where you will be able to enjoy the powdery snow and thrilling views. The advanced course lies in the middle of the mountain and offers a dynamic experience. A detour course also provides a fun run down for intermediate-level skiers. Zao Liza World can be reached in 30 minutes by taking the free shuttle bus "White Echo" from in front of Kaminoyama Onsen Station.

View from the slopes
The Central Slope is a wide and spacious course at the bottom of the slope perfect for beginners and families. On Saturdays and Sundays, a sled course is set up near the restaurant by the base of the slope and is perfect for kids who are not ready to ski yet.

The cafeteria restaurant is where people always come to eat, especially for the pizzas. The pizzas here are baked in a stone oven brought over directly from Italy. As well as pizzas, you can find a comprehensive menu of curry, rice bowls, pasta, and snacks.

More information about ZAO LIZA World here

After skiing, go to the new style recovery hot spring "Kogenyu"

Hot Springs
If you have time, be sure to stop by the day-trip hot spring facility "Kogenyu," only 5 minutes away by car, if you want to unwind after a busy day. You can find not only hot spring baths, said to have anti-aging and skin beautifying effects, but you can also enjoy a full-fledged sauna, a contrast bathing pool, a relaxation room, and oxygen capsules - totally not what you can find in a normal hot spring!

If you plan to stay overnight, the inn at Kaminoyama Onsen, which has been running for 555 years, is highly recommended. The area around the nearest station, Kaminoyama Onsen Station, is home to lovely inns such as "Nippon no Yado Koyo," selected as one of the top 10 inns by professionals, "Arimakan," where you can enjoy five different private hot spring baths, and "Hatagonokokoro Hashimotoya," which offers a modern, high-quality Japanese atmosphere. Beside the hot spring baths, you can also enjoy Yamagata's specialties such as Yonezawa beef, Yamagata beef, Yamagata's brand rice "Tsuyahime" and Tama-konjac. Check out one of these amazing inns to make your stay extra special.

Explore Kaminoyama Onsen Town then Yamagata City

Kaminoyama Onsen Town
A 10-minute walk from Kaminoyama Onsen Station is the Kaminoyama Castle Local Museum, with its impressive castle appearance which is even more beautiful in winter. Here, you can learn about the history of the Edo period, including the battles against the Date and Uesugi clans of Yonezawa, through exhibits and videos. If you go up to the observatory deck, you can see this castle town of samurai residences and old houses with a backdrop of the Zao mountain range in front of you. You can buy Yamagata souvenirs at the museum shop and Kakashi Chaya Tea House. Great souvenirs are also on sale at the long-established Japanese sweets shop "Daikokuya" near the station. Here you can find a variety of sweets, including the famous "Kaminoyama Karinto," as well as handmade Japanese sweets such as Ageman and Yubeshi, and cookies and apple pies.

Stay for an extra night around Yamagata to enjoy the sight of the ice-covered trees known as "Snow Monsters" and skiing at Zao Onsen, or visit famous places such as Yamadera Temple (Hoshuzan Risshakuji Temple), famous for its 1015 stone steps, Kajo Park and Yamagata Castle, and Yamagata City Local History Museum (Old Saisekan), a building with a Western and Japanese mix of architecture. For visitors to Zao and its surrounding area, discover amazing sights and local Yamagata cuisine that can only be found here.

Fun and relaxing times can be found in nature-rich Tohoku

Zao Onsen
Tohoku's slower pace and way of life make it a region where you can easily escape from the big cities, relax, and enjoy a moment of peace. Blessed with beautiful natural surroundings, the whole area is blanketed in white during winter, making it an even more breathtaking place. As well as the three areas introduced above, the six prefectures of Tohoku are filled with so much to see that a short trip would not do it justice. Spend at least a few days to experience the snow, hot springs, sights, and local cuisine to discover and learn what makes Tohoku so special.

[Note] Pricing information and schedule are correct at the time of writing and are subject to change without notice. Please check the official website before your trip.

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