MONSTERS IN JAPAN’S DEEP WHITE
FROM MONSTERS TO ONSENS… JAPAN’S TOHOKU REGION IS MAGICAL IN WINTER.
From monsters to onsens… Japan’s Tohoku region is magical in winter.
There are monsters on the peak of Mount Zao in Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture, massive contorted blobs that loom ominously through the driving blizzard, their lumpy features morphing from pink to green and purple under vivid evening illuminations.
There’s nothing scary about these mythical juhyo snow monsters, however; and for snowboarders and skiers who swish through metres-deep powder in the shadow of these unique formations, they are a wondrous addition to the enticements of a perfect 10 km run.
Snow monsters are a phenomenon unique to this part of northern Japan, formed when a bitter easterly jet stream, straight off the steppes of Siberia, snapfreezes powder snow clinging to the wet leaves of Aomori fir trees. Over the winter months, as the ice and snow continue to form and solidify, the trees distort into surreal shapes that overactive imaginations could perceive as a monstrous army.
As a non-skier I am intrigued by nature’s wicked sense of humour and, as I sink up to my thighs in the marvellously deep, dry snow to photograph the monsters bearing down on Zao Onsen Ski Resort, I finally understand the allure of skiing in Japan. Not only is the snow incredible, but there are no crowds, no lift queues, countless runs and magical winter scenery. There are also very few Australian accents to be heard; for now,
Zao Onsen Ski Resort remains somewhat of a hidden treasure.
This hot spring ski resort is located in the Tohoku region of northern Honshu, extending from the north of Tokyo to the tip of the main island and covering six prefectures. A range known as the Ou Mountains divides this region east to west, coiled like a sleeping dragon, hackles raised in anticipation. To the east of the range, the climate is tempered by the Pacific Ocean; but to the west, it cops the full fury of winter, resulting in some of the deepest snowfalls in Japan.
The result is a winter wonderland of Narnia-esque enchantment, buried beneath a perpetual carpet of white for six months of the year. Then, perhaps as way of compensation, Mother Nature waves her magic wand, turning the landscape a flurry of pink during cherry blossom season, emerald green in summer and a riot of red and gold in leaf-peeping season.