I am not going to lie to you, I think I ate my weight in “kindness from strangers” during my stay in Zao.
When I walked in to this bright Pension in Miyagi Zao, I found that I had the place to myself. The peak ski season was over, and this town returns to a ghost-town.
However Wako-San was the most accommodating host and provided me with half her dinner that night after I found out that every restaurant in the area closed by 7:30pm.
Despite the language barrier between us, we spent most nights drinking tea and laughing about the day’s events (and my poor Japanese ha). I definitely made a friend here.
She provided me with the best breakfasts I have ever eaten… ever. Everything, even the breads and pastries, were handmade by her. She would ask me after our tea drinking session at 10pm what time I would like breakfast, and then would proceed to prepare it in the kitchen that night.
After failing once to see Zao’s Okama Crater, she suggested I left at 7am The next morning to catch the window of clear sky at the peak. And then worried that I wouldn’t get breakfast that morning… So when I woke up she had packed me assorted onigiri and a flask of Hojicha tea!
The hospitality of Japanese people goes miles. I respect that so much.
A huge reason so many gaijin make their way up to Zao, is to get so close to foxes they rub their wet noses on your leg.
Pulling up to a yellow wooden shack with a giant plastic gorilla outside wasn’t really what I was expecting. However the magic is inside.
At first you see a petting zoo with foxes of all colours in cages, a thousand tiny rabbits and even a couple of horses.
Then, and this is why people will pay 1000¥ yen to visit here; I entered a huge enclosure where it is just you and literally hundreds of foxes roaming free.
I have hundreds of photos of cute sleeping foxes now.
They do get livelier when you feed them from this raised station in the middle of the enclosure though. Special food can be bought in the massive fox-themed gift shop.
You do wonder whether they go a bit nuts in here …
From what I could see, they are treated well with a special fox hospital nearby and they all look clean and have healthy fur. The enclosure is huge and they have plenty of places to hide and sleep on.
These particular foxes have been bred to domestication (hence the white and black fox species appearing, closer to that of a dog’s gene). They are extremely content with human presence and I doubt that they would survive in the wild if they were to be set free.
Mizubasho no Mori was a secret park recommended by Wako-san for the Mizubasho flowers that only appear at this time of year. The park is named after them as their appearance is so special.
I walked along long wooden bridges through recovering Sasa (bamboo) and dead trees trying to find these flowers.
After being pretty underwhelmed… I turned the corner and all of a sudden I saw hundreds of little white candles in the deep brown marsh.
The smell was strong and sweet like floral candy. It was an incredible sight to see 50,000 of them in one spot.
Stayed at AirBnB “Beautiful B&B in Zao with Hot Spring” in Miyagi Zao: ¥5019p/n for a twin room. Breakfast included.
Zao Fox Village Entry Fee: ¥1000
Mizubasho no Mori Entry Fee: Free
You need a car to access. Parking is free. Toilet nearby.