Unkai Terrace: Hokkaido’s Unique And Most Beautiful Cloud-Watching Spot

One of the most favorite activities of tourists coming to Japan is to visit Unkai Terrace, the highest cloud-watching spot, and enjoy a sea of clouds right below their feet.

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Photo: Japan Travel
Photo: Japan Travel

Seas of clouds – known as unkai in Japanese– are layers of clouds or mist viewed from above. Unkai Terrace in Hokkaido is one of the most popular of these places to visit!

So how do unkai form? They are a natural occurrence that happens under certain circumstances, but when it occurs, it is truly an amazing sight to behold. There are various types of seas of clouds in Japan, such as mist above the ocean or a lake, or fogs created by humid air on low grounds being pushed up the mountainside by winds, according to Livejapan.

Surrounded by ski slopes and hotels, Tomamu mountain resort area is located near the center of Hokkaido. The most celebrated spot in this area is the Unkai Terrace of Hoshino Resorts Tomamu. From this vantage point, fortunate visitors can witness the spectacular cloud sea (called unkai in Japanese), which appears in the early morning under special atmospheric conditions. The cloud sea can be closely observed — and almost touched — because Unkai Terrace elevation of 1088 meters is a perfect altitude to encounter this phenomenon. You’ll be astounded as the cloud sea rolls over the mountains of the region, like a panoramic Japanese scroll painting.

Photo: Japan Travel
Photo: Japan Travel

What does Unkai Terrace offer?

The facility features seven unique vantage points which can be accessed by taking a gondola from the bottom of Mt Tomamu and riding to an elevation of 1,088 meters. This includes the main observation deck, which has just reopened with an extended deck that protrudes even farther from the mountain. From here, you’ll get an ethereal view of the seasonal phenomenon where soft white clouds appear to form an ocean with the peaks of surrounding mountains poking out like islands, according to Timeout.

Photo: Is Japan Cool?
Photo: Is Japan Cool?

The additional lookout points aren’t your typical viewing platforms, either. There’s the Cloud Walk, which is shaped like a cloud and structured like a suspension bridge to provide a 210-degree view, as well as the Cloud Bed, made of elastic cushions for people to lie down or lean back on as they look up at the sky above.

The mesh Cloud Pool looks a bit like a hammock, and a relaxing one at that, as you can look over the side of it or lounge on it as the cloud formations shift around you. A newer feature that opened in 2019 is the Cloud Bar. With the right camera angle, the tall chairs here will make it look as though you’re sitting miles above the ground.

The café closest to heaven on earth

Unkai Terrace is only open from mid-May to the end of October. Ropeway gondolas run from around 4:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. allowing visitors to easily access Unkai Terrace on a nearby mountaintop. Not only hotel guests but also general visitors are admitted to the observation area. A café is located near the terrace, so you can have breakfast while enjoying incredible scenic views. Depending on the season, Unkai Terrace offers free yoga lessons and a trekking guide to the top of Mount Tomamu, according to Is Japan Cool.

Photo: Japan Travel
Photo: Japan Travel

Observation Decks to View Unkai from Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo

Akan-Mashu National Park that spans over 1 city and 10 towns including Akan and Mashu is the most historical national park in Hokkaido. The caldera lake, Lake Mashu, and Lake Kussharo are the two most popular tourist spots that represent the area.

From June to October, the area can be covered in mist that drifts from the Pacific Ocean in the south; if the conditions are right you can see the unkai sea of clouds in Hokkaido.

Lake Kussharo’s caldera is the largest in Japan, the outer ring has 4 observation decks, which provide a unique view of the sea of clouds. Tsubetsu Pass Observation Deck located west-southwest of the lake is at an altitude of 947m and is known as the spot where you can most likely see unkai.

Photo: TripAdvisor
Photo: TripAdvisor

Bihoro Pass Observation Deck located to the west of the lake offers a great panoramic view of the unkai. Mokoto Pass Observation Deck located on the north side is popular with photographers because it provides direct light.

Lake Mashu is known as “Misty Lake Mashu.” Throughout the year the water temperature is low and ascending air currents are likely to occur in the summer, and there is a rare chance that thick mists will cover the lake and create an unkai.

If you are lucky you can see unkai with the sunrise at Lake Mashu First Observatory Deck located to the southwest and Lake Mashu Third Observatory Deck located to the north.

Weather conditions

Photo: Live Japan
Photo: Live Japan

The cloud sea is not visible every day. But even if you can’t see this spectacle, the ever-changing cloud patterns on the landscape will reward your effort to go up to Unkai Terrace, and the panoramic view of the Hidaka Mountains alone is worth your visit. A ropeway gondola is available without reservation, but please note that this service may be canceled in bad weather. Phone confirmation in advance is recommended, according to Is Japan Cool.

Charlotte Pho