You loved Japan’s endless displays of fireworks in summer; you thought winter’s Christmas lights were pretty snazzy (not to mention romantic). But you’ll admit few man-made sights surpass natural ones, especially the magnificent frost-flowers near Nagasaki Prefecture’s Mt. Unzen in winter.
Frost is formed when the moisture in below-zero air temperatures freezes, creating tiny icy crystals. When these crystals cling to trees high in the mountains it’s as though each branch has sprouted exquisite flowers of ice. Although miniscule, the individual frosty crystals en masse make breathtaking artworks out of entire trees. In Japanese, they’re dubbed frost flowers.
Fortunately, you don’t have to travel to Japan’s remote north to see this phenomenon. Kyushu’s Unzen district has two spots renowned for frost flowers, providing its icy roads aren’t closed to traffic: the 1,080m-high Nita Pass and Myoken Pass, near Unzen’s cable car station. The viewing platform at 1,300m above sea level here is wind-whipped and icy, but has magnificent views over the Unzen hot spring resort. If conditions are right between mid-December and mid-February, Myoken Pass is the best spot to see frost-flowers, particularly after cold windy nights when there’s been some cloud-cover. Itﾕs a natural miracle worth rugging up to view, and there are always the steaming hot spas of Unzen to compensate for the chill-factor later