Ginzan Onsen is arguably one of the most popular onsen towns in Japan, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s so picturesque, it looks like it may have come out of a historic Japanese movie. The small town houses a smattering of traditional ryokans which line up alongside either side of the river, painting an image that one will never be able to get over.
In winter, the town really comes to life, with snow capping the roofs of the ryokans and lining up the streets, and when night falls and the ryokans and walkways are illuminated, it simply magical.
There is also a 22-metre waterfall which gushes at the back of the town, further enriching the scenery here. The picture opportunities alone are enough to entice visitors to go the distance to visit this place, but Ginzan Onsen surprisingly holds a few activities to do as well, so whilst you may be here just to immerse yourself in this nostalgia-inducing environment, read on about how you can spend your time her exploring during the day.
The town is quite small, and therefore is a pedestrian area only. If you are driving, you will need to park just outside and go for a walk in (it’ll only take a few minutes).
How to Get To Ginzan Onsen
The most convenient way to get here is by rental car from Yamagata station or airport. To get to Yamagata airport, you can catch a flight from Tokyo which will cost around 9,000 yen one way, and take just over one hour to get there.
Otherwise, you can catch a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata station. This trip would be covered by the JR Pass (and by the JR East Pass), and take just over 3 hours. Once you get there, you can head to the car rental desk and hire a car. The drive will take just over an hour.
You also have the option of taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Oshida Station, and then hopping off there to catch a bus to Ginzan Onsen. The train ride will take 200-minutes and cost 12,000 yen. The bus ride will take 35-minutes and cost 710 yen, and will come over 60 to 90 minutes. The trip to Oshida will be covered by the Japan Rail Pass, but you will need to pay for the bus ride.
Lastly, you can also take a bus from Yamagata airport to Ginzan Onsen. This will take 75-minutes, and cost 1500 yen one way.
Where To Stay In Ginzan Onsen
Located right in the Ginzan Onsen district, Ginzanso is one of the purest and authentic ryokan experiences you can have, and that’s saying something since it’s situated in one of the most popular onsen districts in all of Japan. Its stunning exterior structure sets the tone for a magnificently built traditional ryokan, complete with gorgeous onsens, spacious rooms with comfortable futons, and fantastic Japanese cuisine. Free Wi-Fi is available to all guests, and a free shuttle service is also available from Obanazawa Station upon request. Relax in your room as you take in the gorgeous surrounding mountain views.
Why Guests Love It: The view is one of the most talked-about things here, and it seems that it’s not just from the bedrooms that you get to take in the surrounding mountains. Both dinner and breakfast are highly recommended by many past travelers, and you’d be glad to know that whilst you do get a lot of space in your private room, it still maintains a tranquil and peaceful atmosphere throughout.
Book It Now: Ginzanso
Located slightly outside of Ginzan Onsen, Kansyokan is the perfect alternative if Ginzan Onsen appears to be booked out, or if you’re after a bit more luxe. Now, if you were impressed by Ginzanso, then prepare yourself by the dreamboat that is Kansyokan. This 4-star ryokan is as visually stunning as it is full of wonderful features to ensure you have a relaxing, intimate stay. It’s got a seasonal outdoor pool, an onsite bar, and a gorgeous manicured garden.
If you’re after deluxe pampering, there is also an in-house spa and wellness center that includes a hot spring bath. Still not convinced? Certain rooms come with massage chairs, whilst others come with their own private onsens, but all rooms come with a fantastic view. Imagine relaxing back on that chair, or soaking in the hot onsen whilst staring out at the majestic mountains…it really doesn’t get much better than that.
Why Guests Love It: The staff here go above and beyond to make your stay here comfortable, which might be hard because guests are already raving about how comfortable the bedding is, how fantastic the views are, how everything is at the tip of your fingers (hot spring, gallery, izakaya restaurant), and how relaxing the entire experience was.
Book It Now: Kansyokan Ryokan
The Best Things To Do In Ginzan Onsen
Visit the Public Baths
Whilst most visitors heading to Ginzan Onsen book a ryokan to stay at, some people might just want to, or can only fit, a day trip in, and that’s fine. There are a few public onsens at Ginzan Onsen which allow day visitors to easily experience the hot springs in this quaint little town, and we’ve listed them below for you.
This is one of the more popular public baths, as it offers some great views from the onsen on the second floor. Instead of the usual square or rectangular shaped baths, these are shaped into triangles, so that’s a unique aspect of Shirogane-yu that you might not see elsewhere in Japan.
- Address: 999-4333, 433 Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa, Yamagata 999-4333, Japan
- Hours: 8:00am – 5:00pm (Closed Mondays and Wednesdays)
- Price: Adults: 500 yen, Junior High Students: 200 yen
If you’re after a relaxing bathing experience a well as as great dining experience, why not try Takimikan, a public bathhouse that’s run by the owners of Takimikan, the popular handmade soba noodle restaurant which sources their buckwheat from Obanazawa? Here, you’ll be able bath in the hot spring and look forward to having a deliciously fulfilling meal afterwards.
- Address: 522 Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa, Yamagata 999-4333, Japan
- Hours: 11:00am – 2:00pm
- Cost: Soba Teishoku: 2,000yen, Soba Zen: 3,500 yen, Takimi Miraku: 3,500 yen
Omokageyu is the only public bathhouse where you will be able to reserve a private onsen to yourself for a certain timeframe. If you’re a bit wary of stripping down for the full onsen experience, this might be the option for you. We recommend that you get in early if this is what you’re after.
- Address: 449 Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa, Yamagata 999-4333, Japan
- Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: 1,600 yen/50 minutes
Warashiyu Public Footbath
Foot baths (Ashyu) are extremely popular in Japan. It’s an ancient traditional to give your feet as much attention as your body in terms of the health benefits of a hot spring, and therefore you will find it to be extremely common, especially around hot spring towns. The Warashiyu footbath in Ginzan Onsen is arguably just as popular as as the other public baths, so don’t be surprised if you constantly see a stream of people here dipping their feet in the comfortably warm water to relax their feet. It’s located right in the middle of Ginzan Onsen town, and it’s absolutely free! Why not spend a few minutes here giving your feet the attention it deserves and taking in the ambience.
- Address: Japan, 〒999-4333 Yamagata, Obanazawa, Ginzanshinhata, 県道 188 号線
- Hours: 6:00am – 10:00pm
Yamagata Hanagasa Odori
If you happen to be visiting Ginzan Onsen during August, make sure you plan your time around the Yamagata Hanagasa Odori that happens every year, celebrating the traditional music and dance of the region. It’s one of Tohoku’s biggest festivals, with over 10,000 performers participating over the three-day festival. If you haven’t experienced it before, the beating of the taiko drums at these festivals is something words can’t describe. You feel the entire rhythm from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, and it’s something you won’t forget for a long time. Whilst it’s not at Ginzan Onsen per se, it’s worth the short travel back to main town for a few hours of festivities.
In a twist of things, the general public can also participate in the festival if they’re keen! You can either wait at the Yamagata City Hall and hop in the goal line before the start of the parade, or jump in at the tail end of the parade and dance until your feet are sore.
(2019 Dates: August 5 – 7)
Shirogane Park and Shirogane Falls
If you’re one to enjoy leisurely walks and taking in sights of beautiful waterfalls, then a visit to Shirogane Park might be a fun way to spend the day. There is a walking path around the park that takes roughly an hour to complete. It’s a very peaceful way to get in touch with yourself, to immerse yourself into nature, and to enjoy some quiet time with some loved ones.
Before you enter the park, you’ll see the 22-metre beauty that is Shirogane Falls at the entrance. Make sure to take a snap before you head in!
Stick Around for the Illumination
If we had to pick one thing and one thing only to see in Ginzan Onsen, then it would absolutely, positively be the illumination of the small town…at night…during winter.
If you google Ginzan Onsen, the images that will pop up will most likely be that of the aforementioned. It’s one of the most stunning sights you’ll see, ever. The gorgeous wooden structures of the magnificent traditional ryokans, covered in snow and surrounded by snow, with twinkling street lamps and the soft hues of the ryokans casting a light glow over the town – it’s just stunning, there are no other words for it.
It’s taken the breaths away from millions of people, and we guarantee it’ll do the same for you. If you’re just doing a day trip here, we strongly urge you to stay back for the opportunity to see this. You won’t regret it.
Explore the Nobezawa Silver Mine Caves
These silver mines have been around since the Edo period, and were built to facilitate the mining of the abundance of silver that was once discovered in hoards there. It was such a great amount that mining this silver quickly became the actual main sources of income for families in the Ginzan Onsen area. Whilst the silver supply has now been long depleted, visitors can still make a visit to the lit up caves to explore them see the historic structure, however, note that for safety reasons, you can’t go more than 20-metres in, and it’s also closed during winter until early spring due to the snow.
- Address: 443 Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa, Yamagata 999-4333, Japan
- Access: It’s near the base of Shiragane Waterfall.
Ginzan Onsen is an absolute must. It’s not something that is too time consuming, nor is it a very strenuous activity. If you’re traveling with your significant other, then this place is very romantic and you’ll absolutely love getting donned up in a yukata, walking the old streets and getting the most picturesque image. It’s a splendid way to break up a hectic schedule and to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.