Zao is a complex volcano located on the border of Yamagata and Miyagi Prefectures. During the summer season, it becomes a great place to explore and play. The mountain is a winter destination for most people, however, Zao is like other tourist attractions in Japan; you can visit the place enjoying its seasonal beauty throughout the year.
On the Miyagi side of Zao, is two more destinations you should include into your Zao trip itinerary: The Zao Cheese Cabin and Miyagi Zao Eboshi ski resort.
The Zao Cheese Cabin is part of Zao Dairy Farm Group, it is a must for cheese lovers. My 10-year-old-son just adores cheese and we were there to introduce him to some fine variations. With two large parking lots, a cheese factory and a fruit farm, the place was bigger than what I had imagined. The wooden decoration greeted the visitors with warm feeling as they entered the cabin. The high wall offered spacious feeling and beautiful natural light. To the left of the door, there was a drink counter, where we grabbed a cup of cheese drink for 50 yen. The drink tasted somewhat like cheese fondue but with a texture of drinking yogurt. It was good and you probably won’t find the drink in other parts of Japan, so just give it a try. To the right side of the cabin, we did impress with the variety of cheese products including many of complex, one of a kind and organic varieties that made in small batch. There was also several skincare products made from cheese, such as soap, lotion, shampoo, etc. To my surprise, they smelled good.
The highlight of the cabin, for me, was the cheese spread tasting corner at the center of the building where visitors can try the original cheese spread with delicious crispy crackers. One of my favorites was orange cheese spread, the brilliant combination of tangy sweet Japanese orange and fresh cheese. It was the first time I went beyond the types of cheese that can be purchased in supermarkets. It was a great experience.
If you look for some serious eats, I recommend you to visit the restaurant in the precinct. The place is notable for the wide array of culinary delights made with cheese. There is also a fruit store selling fresh produce from the farm. They were super fresh and inexpensive.
Besides the cabin, there was a cheese factory where unfortunately no factory visit or tour could be made, otherwise we would spend a whole day there.
Leaving the cabin, my family and I headed to Miyagi Zao Eboshi Ski Resort, a medium size ski resort in Zao Town, Miyagi prefecture. During summer, they turned this winter sports destination into a huge playground for kids. There was a rubber swimming pool with a colorful slider where kids were having fun swimming, splashing water into each other’s faces. Behind the pool, there was a hill where visitors could try nagashi somen, a fun Japanese eating style where the thin wheat noodles were placed in a bamboo pipe full of cold running water and the diners caught the noodles as they went past. If you’re confident in your chopstick skill, it is pretty fun and easy. However, we were still pretty full so we decided to skip the flowing noodles.
Then my son felt like fishing in the clear still pond where some kids sat carrying a small rod and pitifully empty plastic buckets. We managed to rent some fishing equipment with cooking service (charcoal grill) for two of our catches, all for just 500 yen.
I inspected every corner of the pond and found that all of the fish was cherry salmon or sakura masu in Japanese. According to one of the staffs, it is the natural spring from Zao that provides an excellent mild flavor and the pleasant smell to the fish. About half an hour later, my little son finally caught two small fish. Squealing with excitement, he ran to the staff. “I‘ve been waiting for a long time.” he complained, scratching the mosquito bites on his arms and legs. Fishing was pretty fun, but the sun was shining a bit too strong, so we decided to trade some sweets for two more fish and surprisingly, the staff accepted the offer.
Then we left the famous ski resort with delicious charcoal grilled cherry salmon which was packed so neatly that we didn’t capture any smell during our way back to Sendai.
Access: Zao is reasonably accessible. However, the area is huge, so it would require a superhuman power to take in more than a few attractions in one day. I suggest you to rent a car and spend a night or two in Sendai and make a city tour later. Alternatively, you can take the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Shiroishi-Zaō Station and take a cab to all these destinations. However, the taxi fare is expensive.