Hakkoda, Aomori – A Land of Snow Monsters and Prawn Tail Pine Trees – Photo Journal 

June 1st, 2020
A veritable army of snow monsters Photo:: Matt Wiseman


Mountainwatch | Matt Wiseman

Howling Siberian winds were almost enough to dissuade even an avid storm skier from leaving the relative comfort of the Hakkoda Ropeway, the skier’s version of a sardine can, 1,324m above sea level.

Stumbling out of the cable car and the large building that temporarily housed it, I wasn’t expecting to see many other punters at the top of the peak. The snow on this particular day was hard going – hard being the operative word – and any windswept vestige of powder went untouched by virtue of the lack of vis.

So, what were all of the Japanese and Chinese tourists doing up here? And more to the point, where were their skis?


More than a few hats were sacrificed to the snow monsters on this day. Photo:: Matt Wiseman

They were here to see the “juhyo”, known in English as “snow monsters” or to Kudo-san, my local ski guide for a day, “prawn tail trees”.

With it being my first day at the top of the ropeway and with less than ideal conditions, I was sceptical the trees alone would warrant such a long and cold journey. Over the next few days I understood. Admittedly the deep powder skiing certainly helped with their majesty.

For a more comprehensive account of the otherworldly skiing to be had in Hakkoda, read our feature article on the ropeway that rewrites the Japanese ski experience. Otherwise, see below the many snowy faces of the juhyo.


Local guide Kudo Masakazu of Hakkoda’s Mountain Academy, instructing American expat Quinlan Farris and myself how instead of ‘monsters’ he thinks the trees look more like prawn tails. Safe to say once you see it you can’t unsee it… Photo:: Matt Wiseman


Touring through the frozen prawn paella. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


The Abies Mariessi or Maries’ fir tree, in Japanese ‘Ōshirabiso’, or ‘Aomoritodomatsu’. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


Native to the mountains of Northern and Central Honshu, the Maries’ fir tree can grow anywhere between 15-30m tall. While they look smaller than Christmas trees here, it’s safe to say what we see is very much the tip of the iceberg. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


Kudo-san enjoying some snow monster slalom. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


Snow monster’s as far as the eye can see. Kudo-san looking out from Mt. Tamoyachdake (1324m) to Mt Akakuradake (1548m) and Mt Idodake (1550m) beyond. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


A veritable army of snow monsters Photo:: Matt Wiseman


A group of snowboarders picking their lines through the snow monsters. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


One of the better-looking skin tracks I’ve seen/made. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


The sentinel snow monsters watching over the 280,000-person city of Aomori and Mutsu Bay the stretch of water that separates Honshu and Hokkaido. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


The monstrous forms are made when cold, westerly Siberian winds blow across the Sea of Japan and hammer the conifers with rime ice and snow. Rime ice describes small supercooled water droplets that freeze on contact and create a mixture of ice particles and trapped air. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


The conifers give way to beech at around 1000m elevation. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


Last light in Hakkoda seen from the Hakkoda Hotel. Photo:: Matt Wiseman


More on Hakkoda; how to get there, accommodation options and non-skiing activities here.