Explore 5 Scenic Winter Spots in the Underrated Tohoku Region | CoolJapan

Tohoku is probably not in many people’s radars when thinking of winter events in Japan, some might not even know where it is. I was one of those people. I only learnt about it when I was stationed there by a company I used to work for.

But this northeastern region is actually one of the snowiest places in Japan and is home to many must-see winter events. For those who want to see snow for the first time or have a remarkable winter experience, Tohoku is the place to be. Here are five unique experiences to indulge in while there.

Snow Monsters in Mt. Zao

Fear not because there aren’t any monsters up in Mt. Zao, just trees covered in snow that resemble a band of massive and deformed snowmen.

Snow Monsters are born from the high altitude of Mt. Zao and chilly Siberian winds that freeze water droplets and stick onto Maries Fir trees, which can withstand harsh cold weather.

This natural phenomenon occurs from late December to mid-March. However, the best period to see Snow Monsters is in February because they are in their largest stage.

Snow Monsters in Mt. Zao

See snow monsters up-close.

Want to see them? There are two ways to get there. The first is by riding a snowmobile at Sumikawa Snow Park in Miyagi Prefecture. It takes about two hours to go and come back from the park to the Snow Monster field and it costs JPY5,300 for adults and JPY4,400 for kids. Visitors are given 15 minutes to see these unusual creatures up close and take some photos.

Make sure to check the weather when you come here. During my visit, it was snowing a lot and the wind was so strong, so I didn’t really notice the snow monsters — but they’re still there. I saw them was when I edited the pictures I took.

Winter Sakura Illumination in Hirosaki Castle

Aomori Prefecture’s Hirosaki Castle is one of Japan’s most scenic cherry blossom destinations because it’s home to 2,600 sakura trees and the west side of this castle turns pink from the fallen petals of the sakura.

No cherry blossoms? No problem with this winter illumination.

Sadly, cherry blossoms don’t bloom in Aomori around winter. However, you can see a similar sight through the Winter Sakura Illumination in Hirosaki Castle. Instead of the pink blossoms, the snow that covers the branches and the moat is illuminated by pink LED lights, which mimic the Hirosaki Castle’s iconic Sakura spot!

During the time I went here, it was snowing a lot, so my companions and I didn’t stay long. It was freezing and the pathway to the castle was quite challenging to walk on. Make sure you wear boots with spikes and bring an umbrella so you don’t slip and stay protected against the snow.

You can see this site from December to February and it’s free.

Oirase Frozen Waterfall illumination

Oirase Gorge is one of the more popular hiking trails in Japan because of its picturesque lush greeneries and waterfalls. When winter arrives, icicles start to form and snow piles up on the gorge, creating a wintry fairytale-like atmosphere.

However, this makes it difficult to reach and explore, but the locals thought of an ingenious way to do so: a bus tour. They also light up these ice formations. And thus, creating the Oirase Frozen Waterfall Illumination.

Oirase Frozen Waterfall illumination

Catch the Oirase Frozen Water illumination.

This event is held from December to March and gives visitors a convenient way to appreciate the striking winter scenery of Oirase Gorge at night. A tour guide will mention interesting info about this place and allow visitors to walk closer to some spots and take photos.

I expected that this tour would be quite cold, so I wore my heated vest and it paid off. It was fascinating to see the unusual snow and ice formation in this place, which reminded me of a Tim Burton movie aesthetic — whimsical and eerie.

For those who are interested in this tour, it costs JPY3,000 for adults and JPY1,500 for children; it lasts around an hour and a half.

Takayama Inari Shrine

Takayama Inari Shrine
The red torii gates of Aomori’s Takayama Inari Shrine.

Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most famous destination for seeing red torii gates, however, Tohoku’s Aomori Prefecture also has one: the Takayama Inari Shrine. It is said that this shrine is great for those seeking luck for their business, bountiful harvest, and safe sea voyages.

woman walking through Torii Gates

The writer walking through the red torii gates.

The red torii gates really pop against the snow, which is a captivating sight. However, since it snows a lot in Aomori, the torii gets covered and you could only see half of it! When my companions and I went through them, we needed to crouch and watch our heads.

Still, the experience was worth it. Takayama Inari Shrine is open the whole year and is free to enter.

Showa Daibutsu

Showa Daibutsu

The giant buddha looks like it’s floating on clouds.

Nestled in Aomori Prefecture’s Seryuji Temple, Showa Daibutsu is the biggest seated bronze Buddha in Japan! It measures 21.35 meters high, which is taller than the ones in Nara and Kamakura.

You can also see the fourth tallest five-story pagoda here, enjoy sauntering around the temple, pray, or copy a sutra.

Woman at Showa Daibutsu

The writer at Showa Daibutsu.

In addition, Seryuji Temple has lush surroundings, creating a calming ambience. During winter, the snow covers the whole place, making it look like the Buddha is peacefully floating on clouds.

The one that really stood out for me, however, was the pagoda because I like its architecture and things that are made of wood. Plus, it looks stunning against all that snow.

Explore more captivating sights and fun experiences in Tohoku here.

This story was created in partnership with Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization.

About the author

Maui Del Rosario is a Filipina freelance writer, illustrator, and amateur photographer, who is constantly looking for scenic places and hidden gems to shoot and write about.