Zao is a mountainous region located in south-west Miyagi – perhaps best known for the beautiful Okama crater located close to the summit of Mount Zao, which also borders Yamagata prefecture further to the west. Zao is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts as well as the natural 'snow monster' phenomenon – ice-covered coniferous trees along the mountainside.
In recent times, the Zao name has also becoming increasingly synonymous with the Zao Fox Village to the south—paradise for cute fox lovers—though it's technically located just south of the Zao border in the Shiroishi district.
Zao is predominantly rural, largely relying on agriculture, forestry and seasonal tourism, as you'll see from the some of the places you can visit described below:
Mt Zao's Okama
One of its biggest attractions is the Mt Zao area, which offers great hiking opportunities. As Japan summits go, Mt Zao might have one of the country's best with the spectacular Okama crater offering a rewarding view to those who make it up to the top. Nicknamed goshikinuma because of the way the colour changes depending on the angle of the sunlight, you can come across the unique alpine dicentra flower towards the summit area.
This remote forest spa resort is a soothing, relaxing getaway for adults, and provides extreme comfort with its modern, yet wooden interior and relaxing fireplace. The award-winning menu uses locally-sourced ingredients and vegetables alongside an impressive all-you-can-drink option.
This small herb garden in eastern Zao sells over 100 varieties of herbs via the farm shop as well as their online store. Visiting has its bonuses though, with the chance to see the herb greenhouses themselves, and maybe even a chance to sample a few cups of tea with the effervescent owner, Hirama-san.
This cafe in central Zao is a great stop for a lunch break to try their famous home-roasted coffee, as well as an assortment of sandwiches and cakes.
This gallery cafe combines art and coffee, and represents another great break stop amid magical surroundings of a rustic interior and dozens of works of art.
Learn about one of the symbols of Miyagi – the Kokeshi doll—at the Zao Kokeshi-kan and its on-site museum. Then flex your creative muscle by trying your hand at decorating one yourself by joining a workshop.
Finish off the day with a visit to this Taiwanese cafe/restaurant in central Zao in the Togatta hot springs area. Here you can try a selection of sweets including egg tart, douhua tofu pudding, Annin tofu and more – the full food menu might tempt you to stay longer though.