Mountain and Travel Course Guide

Aizu AreaDay Trip

Visit snowy Mt. Nishi-Azuma to See the ‘Little Monsters’!

Text: Megumi Kanda /
Photo: Hideki Hoshino

When winter comes and Mt. Nishi-Azuma becomes a snowy wonderland, a horde of little monsters appear. What could they be, you may ask? Actually, they are frost covered trees! Many people probably know them as ‘snow monsters.’ They occur when fog and snow are blown onto trees by the wind and then freeze, covering them with fine ice. The ones that grow and grow into a big, white mass are called ‘snow monsters.'

The trees on Mt. Nishi-Azuma are short and dense, so groups of little snow monsters can form. They are smaller than the ones found in other mountain areas. Let's take a closer look at these little monsters!

  • 1Starting from Grandeco Snow Resort!
  • 2Viewing snow-capped Mt. Nishi-Azuma from Nishi-Daiten
  • 3To Mt. Nishi-Azuma!
  • 4An open-air bath in a Japanese garden at Nakanosawa Onsen
  • 5Satisfy your sweet tooth bamboo grass rice cakes (Sasa Dango)

1 Starting from Grandeco Snow Resort!

From Grandeco Snow Resort, a ski resort located on the southern slope of Mt. Nishi-Azuma, we were transported to the mountainside by a gondola lift. It was a pleasant sunny winter morning. The slopes were already crowded with skiers.

If you transfer from the Grandeco gondola lift to the 4th quad lift, you can get to the mountain trail right away, but since it was a weekday the quad lift was not in service. At the end of the gondola lift, we put on our snowshoes and started to go straight up the ski slope. The vigorous activity quickly warmed us up.

(Upper left) Arriving at Grandeco. (Upper right) Taking the gondola lift to the top of the ski slope (Bottom) Putting on snowshoes, ready to go!

Arriving at the top of the ski slope, we entered a forest of Aomori firs (Abies mariesii). It is said that in the high mountains of the Tohoku region, these are the trees that become covered in frost. It is said to be the most cold-tolerant coniferous tree, suited to a heavy snowfall environment, second only to the Japanese white pine.

(Top) A beautiful forest mainly of firs. (Bottom left) Frost covered trees in the blue sky. (Bottom right) ‘Ebi-no-shippo,’ meaning ‘shrimp tail,’ a type of frost formation on a tree. When it grows much bigger, it becomes a snow monster.

2 Viewing snow-capped Mt. Nishi-Azuma from Nishi-Daiten

Mt. Bandai draped in a layer of clouds stands behind me.

We climbed up among tall trees, trudging step by step through snow. There was no need to plow the path on this day, as there were enough traces and so little snow that some hikers were even using crampons without snowshoes. In fact, this winter has been much warmer than usual, with little snow everywhere in the mountains. “Will there be any little monsters in this mild winter?" I asked myself....

(Top) Ice covering the trees is gradually increasing. (Middle) White trees against the blue sky. (Bottom) We have climbed a lot! The trees are getting shorter above the snowline.

When reaching the top of the ridge, we found the summit of Nishi-Daiten next to Mt. Nishi-Azuma with a 360-degree view! I looked back at the ridge we climbed and saw Mt. Bandai rising beyond it, hidden by clouds, while Mt. Nishi-Azuma was in front of me, its gentle slopes lined with pure white trees. The view of snowy mountains is so extraordinary that I am always easily captivated.

(Upper) A little more to Nishi-Daiten (Lower) Arrived at the summit of Nishi-Daiten with a superb view of Mt. Nishi-Azuma!

3 To Mt. Nishi-Azuma!

From here, we walked along a wide ridge line. I intentionally deviated from the trace and left my own footprints. With childlike excitement I was kicking the snow with my snowshoes on the loose descent from Nishi-Daiten. As I was playfully strolling along... ah, hello! I met a swarm of little monsters!

(Top) I can't help but smile on the way down as I've climbed so much.
(Bottom) I'm so excited by the blue sky and snow! Running like a kid!

Hiking up again to Mt. Nishi-Azuma the shrubby forest of firs becomes a dense, pure white mass. We weaved our way through these monsters of all shapes and sizes, some large and dense, others slender and arched, greeting each one as we went.

(Above) An arch of frost covered trees. How did it come to be shaped like this? (Bottom) Huge frost covered trees. Not so ‘little’ anymore!

Hiking around the little monsters, we quickly reached the summit of Mt. Nishi-Azuma. The summit was a huge expanse of pure white. I couldn't even find any of the summit markers. I checked the GPS and decided that a certain point was the summit. Near the summit, there were many small monsters no taller than I.

(Top) Blue sky lunch at the peak of Mt. Nishi-Azuma. (Bottom) Numerous little monsters in the wide snow field at the summit.

It must be beautiful as the mountain gradually turns white from fall to winter, and the damp, cold winds nurture the little monsters. I kind of want to see them grow, but I also want to remain ignorant of the monsters' true nature.

(Top) Mt. Bandai finally appears out of the clouds. (Bottom) Adatara mountain range covered with snow.

Spot Information

Grandeco Snow Resort

Arasunasawayama, Hibara, Kitashiobara Village, Yamagun
0241-32-2530 (9:00-17:00)
Grandeco Snow Resort (during skiing season)
Grandeco Resort (green season)
Advice for hiking Mt. Nishi-Azuma in winter

The ridge from Nishi-Daiten to Mt. Nishi-Azuma, especially near its summit, is quite wide, making it easy to lose direction when visibility is poor. Be sure to carry a GPS tracker. If you are not familiar with snowy mountains, you should be accompanied by a guide.
The Nishi-Azuma refuge hut is located just below the summit of Mt. Nishi-Azuma (refer to photo).

I used my large snowshoes for this hike, but smaller, more maneuverable snowshoes should make for an easier walk when hiking in these mountains.

Course Time

Gondola lift summit station (Grandeco Resort) - [1 h 45 mins] - Nishi-Daiten - [35 mins] - Nishi-Azuma hut - [10 mins] - Mt. Nishi-Azuma summit - [10 mins] - Nishi-Azuma hut - [40 mins] - Nishi-Daiten - [1 h 15 mins] - Gondola lift summit station

You can also check here for an introduction to the climbing course and information about sightseeing in Mt. Nishi-Azuma.

Aizu Area

Mt. Nishi-Azuma2035m

Walking time:
5 hours
Recommended season:
May to October
Read more about
Mt. Nishi-Azuma *

* Auto Translation page

4 An open-air bath in a Japanese garden at Nakanosawa Onsen

After coming back from the mountain, of course, one must soak in a hot spring! We went to Hanamiya ryokan, a Japanese style hotel located in Nakanosawa Onsen. Nakanosawa Onsen is a quiet hot spring resort surrounded on three sides by volcanoes: Mt. Adatara in the east, Mt. Bandai in the west, and the Azuma mountain range in the north. It boasts an abundance of hot spring water, flowing at a rate of 10,000 liters per minute.

Hanamiya ryokan's main attraction is its open-air bath. Located in a large Japanese garden, the baths are spacious and the hot spring water is free-flowing 24 hours a day. What a luxury! I relaxed and soaked my tired body in the bath.

Spot Information

Aizu Nakanosawa Onsen, Hanamiya ryokan

2855-103, Numajiriyama-ko kogai, Inawashiro-machi,Yama-gun
Hanamiya Ryokan (click here for information about lodging)

5 Satisfy your sweet tooth with bamboo grass rice cakes (Sasa Dango)

For the last part of our trip, we recharged with something sweet. We stopped by Horaido confectionery in the Nakanosawa hot spring resort area.

They have many Japanese confections on display, but without hesitationI went for the dumplings wrapped in bamboo grass. It is a signature product that has been made using traditional methods since the company's founding. The aroma of yomogi (Japanese mugwort) filled my mouth with flavor as I took a bite, and the slightly bitter dumplings were well balanced with the mildly sweet red bean paste.

(Top) Tempura Dango (tempura bamboo grass dumplings) exhibit a perfect blend of the saltiness of the batter and the sweetness of the filling. (Bottom) Although there are many types of bamboo grass dumplings, many fans say that Horaido's are their favorite.

Cream Box Daifuku (rice cake stuffed with sweets) is also highly recommended. ‘Cream Box’ is Koriyama's local specialty, which is bread topped with a generous amount of milk-flavored cream. Their ‘daifuku› is a new Japanese confectionery made by wrapping the cream in a rice cake. The fine sweetness always makes me want to try a second one!

(Left) Koriyama's local specialty, ‘Cream Box’, evolved into daifuku. (Right) It is sold frozen, so it tastes great even when semi-thawed.

Spot Information

Horaido Confectionery

2855-453,Numajiriyama-ko kogai, Inawashiro-machi,Yama-gun
Horaido Confectionery

6 Summary

Although I was worried about the effects of the mild winter, there were still little monsters on Mt. Nishi-Azuma. It is said that frost covered trees and even spectacular monsters can only appear under certain conditions—the proper weather and vegetation. I hope you can also see for yourself the beautiful sights that nature has created. Why don't you go meet the little monsters?

Spot map

Nearby Spots

Review the spots mentioned in the article

japanese page