A surprising and untouched region less than three hours from Tokyo, Tohoku is blessed with astounding landscapes, delicious beef and fresh fruit across all seasons
Photos: Pamela Chow
Mention “winter wonderland” and images of Finland and Iceland would often come to mind — not so much Japan. Yet, only about two and a half hours by train from Tokyo, we found exactly where you’d imagine Santa Claus to live.
Leaving the clear blue skies behind, we zipped through the white fields and forests of Tohoku. Snow-coated pine trees rose up from the hills around us, veiled by a light winter mist. Arriving at our first stop, Takahata, we learned that we had brought with us the first and heaviest snowfall in Tohoku.
In Winter, the snow on the trees of Mount Zao forms towering “snow monsters”, resembling a mob of giants flocking up the slopes. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Sights across the seasons
Winter, which lasts from December to March, envelopes the region in a blanket of pure white. The higher we headed up into the mountains, the more dramatic the snow appeared; at lower altitudes, the ice perches on tree branches like delicate glassware, but at the foggy peak of Mount Zao, the frost has been thrashed and chiselled by the winds to resemble fried ebi (prawn) tails.
By mid-February, the sleet on the trees of Mount Zao will be sculpted into towering snow monsters, resembling a mob of giants flocking up the slopes. Here, you can ski and snowboard from the summit on a 10km-long playground that’s suitable for beginners too.
For the rest of the seasons, the fog gives way to colourful and vivid slopes as the flora and fauna begin to flourish, and trekking trails open up. The iconic Okama crater lake emerges into view; interestingly, its colour morphs over time with the seasons.
The small towns and cities of Tohoku also enjoy cherry blossom blooms in Spring, and here, you won’t have to jostle with the tourist crowds to view this coveted sight.