Ginzan Onsen (Yamagata), View on the thermal village and its traditional architecture

Ginzan Onsen

The Authentic Thermal Village in Yamagata

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Ginzan Onsen is a typical small spa resort affiliated to Obanazawa City and nestled in the mountains of Yamagata prefecture, in the north of Japan. This onsen village is loved by Japanese and international tourists for the beauty of its preserved traditional architecture.

Along with Kyushu Island and its active volcanoes, the mountainous and rural Tohoku area is also one of the Japanese’s favorite destination, for its onsen ♨️, the famous natural springs into which one can relax in high temperature. Far in the mountains of Yamagata prefecture, Ginzan Onsen is one of Japan ‘s most picturesque thermal resort true to the ideal picture of a timeless place, with a quaint architecture in a fantastic atmosphere reminding of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away movie.

Ginzan Onsen (Yamagata), View on the thermal village and its traditional architecture 3

A rural village with traditional wooden architecture

The village spreads along a small river, on a single main street which is mainly pedestrian. To preserve the place, cars 🚙 and bus are parked slightly upstream on a dedicated parking. Shuttles take over the transport of visitors. Only the few vehicles supplying shops and inns are allowed to drive in these very narrow streets, which helps enjoying the exploration of the thermal resort, that is quickly made, even when walking slowly.

Most of the buildings' raw wood and white plaster facades date back to the Taisho Era (1912-1926). Ginzan Onsen succeeded in preserving its original condition for a long time and it is precisely this preserved and homogeneous architecture that makes all the charm of the destination. Regardless, some establishments have been recently renovated under the direction of architect Kengo Kuma who naturally respected the place’s identity while adding a subtle touch of modernism. The result is tasteful and perfectly merges with the village’s picturesque features. One can also notice that the river’s bed was reinforced with stones, and not concrete, for a beautiful authentic look.

Ginzan Onsen (Yamagata), Ashiyu foot bath

A 100% onsen Japanese gateway

The touristic offer at Ginzan Onsen is almost exclusively based on its hot baths, gathered into two public onsen facilities in the resort and in the ryokan inns along the main street. Shared or private baths, indoor or outdoor baths: the choice to enjoy thermal waters is varied and also depends on the caters to every budget. The most traditional ryokan offer rather luxurious all-inclusive formulas (meals and one night stay). However, the access to the bath for daytime visitors is quite affordable.

The rest of the village includes a short walk in Shirogane Park, marked by:

  • Shirogane no taki (白銀の滝), a 22 meters high waterfall; and,
  • The discovery of Nobesawa Ginzan (延沢銀山遺跡銀坑洞), the abandoned mine testimony of the village’s former mining activity. The name of the thermal resort Ginzan Onsen indeed means "hot springs of the former silver mine".

Note however that the park is not accessible in winter due to snow.

We highly recommend the trip to Ginzan Onsen to try the hot baths and stay overnight. The village indeed offers a fantastic ambiance at nightfall, when it is lit up by the many little old gas lamps. In winter and its heavy snowfalls, very few people dare to go outside, giving an enhanced nocturnal landscape, very relaxing. In summer, it is pleasant to walk in a yukata 👘 and enjoy the altitude’s fresh air. Ginzan Onsen’s accommodation capacity being limited to 300 persons at the same time, it is strongly advised to book a ryokan well in advance.

This article was written after a tour sponsored and organized by the Tohoku area and the associated prefectures. Kanpai has been invited and guided but keeps a total freedom of editorial content.
⬇️ Further down this page, discover our visit guide in Ginzan Onsen and around.
By Kanpai Updated on October 11, 2022 Ginzan Onsen