Zao Soft Rime, Zao Onsen, Yamadera

Trip Start Apr 02, 2006
Trip End May 17, 2008

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Flag of Japan  , Tohoku,
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tohoku Region is still located in my island, Honshu Island, but it is very far from my region. Usually, when people from my region travel to Tohoku, they take a flight or the Shinkansen bullet train, but I took a overnight bus to save time and money. Actually, I arrived at Sendai, the largest city of the region, at 7:30 and it enabled me to begin sightseeing from the early morning. Although the bus fare was only JPY 5,100, it took about 10 hours to get to Sendai from Nagoya on the night bus. Actually, Sendai was not my main destination at the time. Generally speaking, buses between big cities are very reasonable and it was true of the overnight bus. That's why I took the night bus from Nagoya to Sendai. 

Anyway, half an hour after I arrived at Sendai, I took a bus to Zao Onsen Hot Spring Resort. Zao offered some different activities to the tourists including skiing & snow boarding, hiking (summer), hot spring bathing, and soft rime observation. Zao is famous for especially its soft rime and that brought me to the resort area. As soon as I got off the bus, I headed for the ropeway station for the Mt. Jizo summit. The ropeway cost JPY 2,500 and it was barely acceptable to me. I got on a gondola with a lot of skiers and snowboarders to Juhyo-kogen Station. Its name was misleading, because "Juhyo" means soft rime, but you must go up to Jizo-sancho Station to see soft rime. On my way to Zao, it was clear and a bit hot. So I was afraid that ice covering trees had thawed by I reached the top. However, when I got off at the summit station, I was able to see numerous snow covered trees and .... tourists. The snow-covered trees are sometimes called "snow monsters", and they reminded me of mushroom-shaped rocks at Yehliu, Taiwan. Anyway, I heard that they were lit up with spot lights at night, but I had no time to stay there until dusk.  Another attraction of Zao to me was its hot spring. There were a few communal bathhouses in the area. Unfortunately, the most attractive outdoor hot spring bath was closed in this season, so I took a bath at the public bathhouse called Shimonoyu. There was neither ticket machine nor ticket-taker at the gate but a small post collecting 200 yen entrance fee. I tried to pay 200 yen and searched for some coins in my wallet, but I had only 80 yen in coin. I should have broken a bill at a convenience store or somewhere for the entrance fee, but I was a bit in a hurry, so I felt sorry and entered the bath, paying 80 yen... Anyway, there were three locals in the bathroom then, but they got out of the bath in five minutes and it enabled me to take a picture of the bathroom. The water was hot enough to warm me up, but it smelled sulfurous and after I took the bath, the smell stuck to my body. 

The next destination was Yamadera, which is officially called Risshakuji Temple. The temple was only 20 minutes' train-ride from Yamagata. The temple is mentioned in the Narrow Road into the Interior by Matsuo Basho, a hiku poet, as a place to be worthy of a visit. Paying 300 yen admission fee, I climbed about 800 steps to the top. The surface of the steps were frozen after visitors tread down the piled snow, so I had to go up slowly, watching my steps. A lot of ancient guardian deity statues, stone carvings, and small shrines were situated along the way. The most impressive were views of surrounding mountains from the temple, especially a view from Kaizan-do Hall. It was like a ink-painting. To tell the truth, I had not known Yamadera until I decided to go to Tohoku Region, but I can recognize it as one of the best attractions of the region and it is highly recommendable to both domestic and international tourists.
Yamadera was the last destination of mine of the day, but I had booked a lodge at Tazawako, Akita. So I headed for Akita Prefecture by way of Shinjo and Omagari. I didn't like long train-rides, so I stopped over at both cities. Shinjo Station included Mogami Experience Hall, which introduced the natural environment of the area. It was not a great attraction, but enough to kill time to wait for a train. On the other hand, Omagari Station was totally boring. All I could do was watch TV in its waiting lounge. Incidentally, the city is famous for its firework display, but it is just a seasonal event. When I reached Tazawako, it was about half past nine. I knew my lodge was 80 meters from the station, but somehow I got lost... Anyway, the lodge Shinkokyu was superb. I stayed in a Japanese-style single room with a communal bathroom and restroom for JPY 3,900 and the lodge was more reasonable than hotels or ryokans of Nyuto Onsen or Kakunodate. Personally, I highly recommend it, if you travel around the region on your own. 
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