If you're into mountains, outdoor sports, and the outback, the Shirabu area in Yamagata Prefecture should appeal to you. For skiers and trekkers, Shirabu is a constant draw, and every season has plenty to offer outdoor enthusiasts in general.
Shirabu Onsen, a hot spring resort with rustic inns perched on an 850-meter plateau, is considered one of the best three in the region.
At Tengendai Kogen, you can take in some culture or go hiking through the wilderness.
The Shirabu area is accessible by bus from Yonezawa Station.
To get to Shirabu Hot Springs, which is the best jumping-off point for all you can do in the area, take the bus for Shirabu Hot Springs from JR Yonezawa Station on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line. The journey takes approximately 50 minutes.
The name Shirabu means "white cloth," taken from the vast blanket of snow that covers the valley in winter. Shirabu is considered one of the best three plateau hot spring resorts in Yamagata along with Zao Onsen and Takayu Onsen. Along the Otaru River is a 50-meter high waterfall that looks like drapes of sheer white cloth. If you like fishing, the river is full of mountain trout.
Shirabu is most famous for its hot springs. The area is dotted with traditional Japanese inns with thatched roofs and rustic cottages that bear witness to the area's 700-year history. The inns and onsen are great places for solo travelers, couples, families or groups of friends to relax and unwind at any time during the year.
Only a few bus stops away from Shirabu Onsen you'll find Tendengai Kogen. Tendengai Kogen offers some of the best views of the surrounding area. It is part of the Azuma mountain range and offers excellent hiking.
From its lookout points, you can take in a sea of stunning foliage in autumn and a pure white blanket of snow covering the alpine forests in winter.
The hike to the highlands offers a number of things to see along the way such as falls, shrines, and marshes. There is a ropeway that takes you to and from the highlands and the onsen area below. During the winter, Tendengai Kogen is the location of a world-class ski resort halfway up Mt. Nishi-Azuma.
Only 50 minutes away by bus from JR Yonezawa Station is the Azuma mountain range, one of the best hiking spots in the area. This popular destination welcomes hikers from early May to late October. Ascend the green coniferous forest to arrive on the 2,000-meter-high peak of Nishi-Azuma. There are equally spectacular views to be seen from neighboring Mount Issaikyo in Higashi-Azuma.
From grass skiing and mountain biking in summer to skiing and snowboarding during the long winter season, the Shirabu area is a playground for outdoor sports enthusiasts.