In the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, you’ll find these 5m+ snow monsters—giant towers of wind-carved rime formed by snow clinging to fir trees.

Although the snow-monster season runs from December to spring, they peak in mid-February (ie the snowiest, coldest part of the year). These formations are found on mountaintops in the area of Zao Ski Resort (WAmazing has a good selection of discounted lift passes and rentals), one of Japan’s oldest ski spots. The monsters are accessed via ropeways and gondolas at the ski resort. The nearby Sumikawa Snow Park also offers guided tours of the snow monsters.

Zao Snow Monster Ski Area | Photo by

You can access the Zao region by shinkansen, bus or car. One option is to catch the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Sendai, the JR Senzan Line to Yamagata, and then a bus to Zao Onsen. Another is to catch the JR Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata and a bus to Zao Onsen. In winter, there’s a direct bus from Tokyo to Zao Onsen, but be warned — it’s eight hours on a bus, overnight. With a JR Pass, a shinkansen trip is cheaper.