Ginzan Onsen (銀山温泉) is a very small hot spring resort located in the northeast of Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. Hot springs are scattered all over Yamagata, so it is a real hot spring paradise. What’s special about Ginzan Onsen is that we can admire the old wooden buildings. They date back to the beginning of the 20th century and make the town very picturesque.
History of Ginzan Onsen
Ginzan literally means ‘silvermine’ (gin 銀, silver and zan 山, mine or mountain). The name Ginzan Onsen (silver mine hot spring) comes from the silver mine that was found in 1456 in this region. This silver mine was very prosperous in the early Edo period (17th century) and was under the direct control of the Tokugawa shogunal government. During the period of prosperity, there were between 200,000 and 300,000 people living here.
Unfortunately, the mine was closed in 1689. After the closure of the silver mine, the area developed as a resort for spa treatment. And little by little, thatched houses were built to accommodate people for spa treatments.
In 1913, most of the buildings were washed away by a flood, and Ginzan Onsen was totally destroyed. But thanks to the wishes of the inhabitants and the power of local companies, the spa was rebuilt in the mid-1920s.
For a long time, despite the good quality of hot water and beautiful buildings, due to difficult access, this resort was a hidden spa (in Japanese 秘湯, hitou). But thanks to TV series Oshin (おしん) that was broadcast in Japan in 1983, Ginzan Onsen became popular in Japan and also in several other Asian countries.
A Charming Town
The quality of the hot springs of Ginzan Onsen is very high, and you can enjoy them in all ryokan. The greatest charm of Ginzan Onsen is the old buildings, most of them built at the beginning of the 20th century. They allow us to travel back in time.
Because of natural disasters that Japan experiences every year, many old wooden buildings are destroyed. Ginzan Onsen is a rare place where we can admire unchanged buildings. In the evening, the street and the buildings are lit up by gas lamps and it is really beautiful.
Our Trip to Ginzan Onsen
I visited Ginzan Onsen on February 28, 2021. I had always dreamed of visiting this place when it is covered with snow. And this year I was in luck, as it snowed a lot in the north of Japan. We had a rather strong earthquake on February 13, 2021, that hit northern Japan. This meat that the shinkansen lines connecting Tokyo and Tohoku area were running at a reduced speed, so it took 30 min longer than usual.
To get to Ginzan Onsen, you should take the Yamagata shinkansen from Tokyo. Until Fukushima station, the cars of Yamagata Shinkansen are attached to those of Tohoku shinkansen. The Tohoku train continues to the north of Japan and terminates in Aomori, and the separation of cars is done at Fukushima station. After the separation, the Yamagata shinkansen goes westward and the landscape becomes more rural.
Arriving at Oishida station, the closest station to Ginzan Onsen, we took the free ryokan shuttle service. You have to book this in advance, and after 30 min we finally arrived at Ginzan Onsen. In total, it took about 5 hours because of the low speed of the shinkansen this time.
After leaving our luggage at the ryokan, we had lunch and chose soba, buckwheat noodles. Yamagata is known for its great production and quality of rice. But the Obanazawa region (where Ginzan Onsen is located) has a great culture of buckwheat flour. It is good to know that Ginzan Onsen is so small that there are only 2 or 3 restaurants depending on the season.
Afterward, we walked there and admired the wooden buildings which are mostly ryokans.
Our Ryokan Stay
We chose Takimi-kan ryokan located at the bottom of the resort. This ryokan is located next to the waterfall hence its name Taki-mi-kan (literally ‘the building to appreciate the waterfall’. As it is not built on the riverside where people walk, Takimi-kan offers open-air baths (roten-buro), very pleasant and open. For dinner, we had the fruits and vegetables of the mountain and soba again.
In the evening, we went down to the riverside to admire Ginzan Onsen illuminated. It’s just beautiful. All the buildings are illuminated with soft light and the gas lamps are also illuminated. Then we went back to the ryokan where we went back to the hot springs to sleep well.
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Access from Tokyo
Take the Yamagata Shinkansen in the direction of Shinjo, and get off at Oishida Station (about 3h20).
Then take the local bus for about 40 min and you will arrive at the Ginzan Onsen bus stop. Most ryokans offer free shuttle service, please ask us for more information.