Tour Japan: What To Do in Shonai, Yamagata’s Winter Wonderland

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Many Tokyoites lament the lack of a real winter in the capital, being offered a light dusting for a day or two out of the year, usually around Coming of Age day in mid-January. If you’re looking for a snowy paradise, look no further than Yamagata Prefecture’s Shonai region.

Flanked by the Sea of Japan to the west and by mountains to the south, east and north, the icy Siberian winds are trapped here, creating heavy snowfall. In fact, Yamagata Prefecture as a whole boasts the heaviest snowfall in Japan, totaling almost 6.5 meters every year.

It only takes an hour via plane from Haneda Airport to arrive in snow country. Once here, you’ll be spoiled with plenty of outdoor activities, like snowshoeing on the holy Mount Haguro and taking a dip in an open-air hot springs bath overlooking the sea at Yunohama Onsen. In between all that fresh air and activity, you’ll want to take in the local sights and culture.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

If you enjoy the idea of snow but are less inclined to interact with it, or you’re looking for something to do before or after your outdoor adventures, the Kamo Aquarium offers respite from the icy cold. This modern facility is home to more than 50 types of jellyfish, the world’s largest jellyfish tank, a few friendly sea lions and a variety of native fish. If local sake is more your speed, head to Dewanoyuki Sake Brewery for some tipples to warm you up. The brewery has over 380 years of history and has regular tours and tastings.

Courtesy of Hidden Japan

A Cultural Take

Though Shonai was relatively isolated in the past, Kyoto had a strong influence on the local culture thanks to the Kitamaebune ships that traveled between the regions. You can experience a rare slice of Kyoto geisha culture in the form of a maiko (apprentice geisha) dance performance at Somaro Tea House. The exclusive performances at noon come with a delicately arranged bento lunch and require reservations in advance. Regular daily performances at 2pm do not require a reservation.

Skip the Hassle, Book a Tour

To avoid the stress of planning a trip yourself, book a tour with a chartered taxi to take you to some of the best spots in Shonai. Reserve with ANA to save up to 75% on their tours in the region. Available for a limited time only.

For more information on Shonai, and to book a tour for the Maiko Dance at Somaro Teahouse or Kamo Aquarium & Dewanoyuki Sake Brewery, visit the Odyssey Japan website, scroll down to the Things To Do section and select tours #13 and #14.

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Main image courtesy of Hidden Japan

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