Discovering Zao Onsen – Episode 16

Sendai was a bit of a sleeper hit on this trip. We didn’t have high expectations for Sendai, mainly because we didn’t have any at all. We were not sure what to expect. We did a little research before the trip, but we put it on the list mainly because it was a larger city and conveniently located for some of the other stops we wanted to make. It’s safe to say that Sendai blew us away, and we had an amazing time visiting this city north of Tokyo. It’s one of the places we speak about returning to while reminiscing about the trip. Suffice it to say we could have spent a few extra nights here.

Episode 16:

One of the things that really impressed us about Sendai was their attention to detail in everything they did for tourists. It was very apparent a lot of thought was put into attracting tourists to the city and helping them get the most out of their visit. There are a lot of sights to see in Sendai and it’s very easy to navigate to the larger ones, mainly due to the Loople Bus.

Sendai is also a good home base for exploring the surrounding area. There are several day trip options available, such as Yamadera. An easy and relatively short train ride away from Sendai, Yamadera was one of the highlights of this trip. If you’re in the area and can spare a day, half a day if you hustle a little bit, we’d recommend thinking about a visit.

It was an excellent stay but our 4 nights were up and it was time to move on. We had another off the beaten path stop for the trip, our last one. Also our last Ryokan on the trip. It was big cities for the remainder of visit to Japan after this last stop. Zao Onsen was our next destination, a short train and then bus ride away from Sendai, up into the mountains.

The train trip was mostly familiar. We had taken the same line to Yamadera the previous day, which is about 20 minutes from our final destination of Yamagata. From Yamagata Station we took a bus the rest of the journey to Zao Onsen.

Zao Onsen was a bit of a wildcard. We did do some research for Zao, but still didn’t quite know what to expect. After arriving and checking into our ryokan we took a short stroll around. We were a bit underwhelmed. It wasn’t the most picturesque little town we’ve been to. There didn’t seem like a whole lot to do. But we learnt the error of our way, this was a big ski resort destination. Nicole had the right idea when she expected we would get to do some skiing. This was actually a shock to me, I didn’t realize she thought this as we planned the trip. Turns out, our timing was off. We were a mere week away from this place getting their first snow for the season, and likely a few weeks away from Zao Onsen really coming alive. Aside from skiing there seemed to be a lot of options for hiking in the area. Unfortunately we were a bit late for that. We landed right between two seasons, in Zao Onsen’s downtime.

After this realization we headed back to our ryokan for our private onsen bath and kaiseki meal. The dinner was out standing, and it had us forgetting our disappointment and helped us reboot and prepare for the following day.


There were several locations featured in this episode

  • The Westin Sendai – Our home for 4 nights. The views out over Sendai from our room on the 36th floor were astonishing.
  • Yamagata Train Station – A smaller train station where we transferred to the bus. Luckily, still large enough for some shopping and food, we found some great food for lunch on the bus.
  • Bus Stop at Yamagata Station – Just out front the train station, the google pin is exactly the stop we waited at. Behind the stop is the counter where you purchase your tickets.
  • Zao Onsen Bus Terminal – A small bus terminal with a sheltered drop-off area. Tickets for the bus can be purchased at self-serve kiosks.
  • Miyamaso Takamiya Ryokan – A ryokan with 300 years of history where we’d stay for 2 nights.
  • Family Mart – My favourite konbini (convenience store) in Japan.

Thanks for watching/reading!

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