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Regions of Japan

Hokkaido Tohoku Hokuriku
Shinetsu
Kanto Tokai Kansai Chugoku Shikoku Kyushu Okinawa Islands SAPPORO TOKYO NAGOYA OSAKA FUKUOKA FURANO KUSHIRO AOMORI SENDAI FUKUSHIMA NIKKO HAKONE SADO TAKAYAMA KANAZAWA ISE KYOTO NARA HIROSHIMA NAGASAKI KAGOSHIMA NAHA
Hokkaido
Hokkaido
  • Hokkaido
Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush
Tohoku
Tohoku
  • Aomori
  • Akita
  • Iwate
  • Yamagata
  • Miyagi
  • Fukushima
Fearsome festivals, fresh powder snow and vast fruit orchards—the rugged territory of Tohoku offers a new perspective on travel in Japan Fearsome festivals, fresh powder snow and vast fruit orchards—the rugged territory of Tohoku offers a new perspective on travel in Japan
Hokuriku Shinetsu
Hokuriku Shinetsu
  • Niigata
  • Toyama
  • Ishikawa
  • Fukui
  • Nagano
An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare
Kanto
Kanto
  • Tokyo
  • Kanagawa
  • Chiba
  • Saitama
  • Ibaraki
  • Tochigi
  • Gunma
Jump from the neon glow of Tokyo to Gunma's mountain retreats, Kamakura's cultural heritage and the Ogasawara Islands' exotic wildlife Jump from the neon glow of Tokyo to Gunma's mountain retreats, Kamakura's cultural heritage and the Ogasawara Islands' exotic wildlife
Tokai
Tokai
  • Yamanashi
  • Shizuoka
  • Gifu
  • Aichi
  • Mie
Hallmark attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama coexist with major cities and famous heritage in the center of Japan Hallmark attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama coexist with major cities and famous heritage in the center of Japan
Kansai
Kansai
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
  • Shiga
  • Hyogo
  • Nara
  • Wakayama
The Kansai region is one of contrasts, from the glittering lights of Osaka and Kobe to the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara The Kansai region is one of contrasts, from the glittering lights of Osaka and Kobe to the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara
Chugoku
Chugoku
  • Tottori
  • Shimane
  • Okayama
  • Hiroshima
  • Yamaguchi
Welcome to Japan's less-explored western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower Welcome to Japan's less-explored western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower
Shikoku
Shikoku
  • Tokushima
  • Kagawa
  • Ehime
  • Kochi
Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving
Kyushu
Kyushu
  • Fukuoka
  • Saga
  • Nagasaki
  • Oita
  • Kumamoto
  • Miyazaki
  • Kagoshima
The southern island of Kyushu is home to hot springs, rugged geography, undeveloped beaches and volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky The southern island of Kyushu is home to hot springs, rugged geography, undeveloped beaches and volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky
Okinawa
Okinawa
  • Okinawa
Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings

Nature

Okama Crater 御釜

Japan's volcanic cooking pot

Sitting on the border of Yamagata and Miyagi Prefectures, Mt. Zao is one of Tohoku's most prominent mountains. Within the mountain lies Zao Okama, a breathtaking caldera lake famous for its changes in color. The deep, water-filled crater is similar in shape (though not in size) to an “okama” cooking pot, thus giving the volcano its name.

Don't Miss

  • The changing colors of the Okama lake
  • Alpine flowers in spring
  • Autumn leaves on the slopes of Mt. Zao

How to Get There

Reach Mt. Zao by rental car or public transport from both Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. Note, however, that the crater lake is not accessible during winter (usually early November through late April) due to heavy snowfall.

From Miyagi: Mt. Zao is located about 60 kilometers from Sendai. If arriving by train from Tokyo, take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Shiroshi-Zao Station. Two buses a day from here make the 100-minute bus ride to “Zao-Katta Sancho.” From here, walk five minutes to the mountain's viewing platform.

If arriving by car, use the Miyagi Prefecture side of the Zao Echo Line and drive to the parking lot just below Mt. Kattadake. The drive should take only under 90 minutes. From there, walk a few minutes to the viewing platform above the crater lake.

From Yamagata: If using public transport, board a train bound for Kaminoya Onsen Station at JR Yamagata Station. Upon your arrival, use the free shuttle bus to the Katta parking area; the journey takes an hour. Take the Zao-Katta ski lift and then walk a few minutes to get to the viewing platform.

If arriving by car, use the Yamagata Prefecture side of the Zao Echo Line and drive to the parking lot just below Mt. Kattadake. From there, walk a few minutes to the viewing platform.

Alternatively, if you are spending time in Zao Onsen and want a hike before hitting the hot springs, take the Zao Ropeway to the upper station and hike 45 minutes to reach Zao Okama's crater lake.

Note: The bus to Zao Onsen is separate from the bus that goes to the caldera, but it also departs from Yamagata Station.

Hike to the top for the best views

Any trip to Mt. Zao is incomplete without a visit to Zao Okama. You can scale most of the mountain by car, bus, ropeway, or chairlift and have the choice of a five or 45-minute hike to the top of the mountain.

The lake is situated at the top of Mt. Zao, one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tohoku region, at 1,841 meters tall. The crater lake is 27 meters deep and has a circumference of 1,000 meters. The high acidity of the water means no animals can live in or drink the water. Visitors can view the lake from a distance.

Another nickname for the “Cooking Pot” is “Goshikinuma” or “The Lake of Five Colors.” The water changes color according to the intensity of daylight. Various shades of deep green and blue are the norm, but if you are lucky, you will be welcomed with a brilliant emerald or turquoise hue.

See it at its prime

Zao Okama is closed during the winter months, while the remaining months each offer something special.

During the summer months, the mountain comes alive with the flowers of alpine plants. View the fiery yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn leaves from late September to late October.

The 26 kilometer “Echo Line” is opened toward the end of April. At this time, the road is clear of snow, but the banks either side have up to ten meters of snow stacked from the long winter. Enjoy this awesome sight before the snow melts in mid-May.

Safety first

Mt. Zao is one of Japan's 110 active volcanoes. Over the last few centuries, there has been some seismic activity, but no eruptions have occurred. The government continues to monitor the area with four observation posts and field tests. Meanwhile, regular and evacuation planning is carried out in case an eruption does take place. Needless to say exercise caution and good judgment and look up official advice before heading to the mountain.

Hikers are much more likely to experience common hazards associated with the outdoors. Be aware of wildlife, wear appropriate gear, stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun.