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Ginzan Onsen Guide: What to Do in Japan's Fabled Hot Spring Village (Access + Activities)

Ginzan Onsen Guide: What to Do in Japan's Fabled Hot Spring Village (Access + Activities)

Date published: 27 January 2020
Last updated: 27 November 2020

Ginzan Onsen is one of Japan's most popular onsen towns, nestled among the scenic mountains of Yamagata's Obanazawa City. It is the go-to hot springs town for the people of the Tohoku region and a growing destination for visitors from abroad, who adore its nostalgic atmosphere.

Join as we step inside Ginzan Onsen, where you can experience the extraordinary!

Table of Contents
  1. Ginzan Onsen: One of Yamagata's Best Hot Springs Villages
  2. Access From Tokyo Station
  3. Winter is the Best Season to Visit Ginzan Onsen
  4. Things to do in Ginzan Onsen
  5. Recommended Hot Springs, Foot Spas, Dining and More
  6. Must-try foods
  7. Where to Go for Lunch
  8. End your trip at Shirogane-no-Taki Falls!
  9. Walk Around Ginzan Onsen in a Rental Kimono
  10. Where to Stay: Best Ginzan Onsen Ryokan
  11. Ginzan Onsen Weather: Beautiful in Every Season
  12. Book an unforgettable experience in Ginzan Onsen!

Ginzan Onsen: One of Yamagata's Best Hot Springs Villages

Ginzan Onsen: One of Yamagata's Best Hot Springs Villages
Ginzan Onsen is filled with quaint ryokan inns and other buildings that will spirit you away to a magical world

Located in the northern part of Japan, Ginzan Onsen is in Yamagata Prefecture in the Tohoku area, facing the Sea of Japan.

Yamagata itself is dotted with onsen, with pretty much every town and village having at least one. Amongst these, Ginzan Onsen in Obanazawa City is especially famous.

Built between the 1920s and 1930s, the numerous wooden structures of the ryokan constructed there were joined up, forming the onsen town it is today, with countless visitors from far and wide across Japan.

One of the main draws of Ginzan Onsen is its structure and atmosphere; walking through it makes you feel as though you’ve walked through a time slip and gone back in time.

The “town” of Ginzan Onsen is very compact, and it takes just five minutes to walk from end to end of this street of onsen. You can enjoy the rich atmosphere of the ryokan, while enjoying famous gourmet delicacies.

Built along a crystal-clear river, the traditional Japanese ryokan inns there are over a hundred years old, and the rows of wooden buildings give the place a charming atmosphere.

Both sides of the Ginzan-gawa River are lined with neat rows of wooden ryokan. Between the gas lamp-lit street at twilight, and the snow along the tiles lining the pavement, this is a view that you can’t tear your eyes away from, and its stark contrast with the modern buildings and structures of today is where the beauty of this place lies.

Access From Tokyo Station

Access From Tokyo Station
Ginzan Onsen is easy to get to from Tokyo!

From Tokyo Station to Ginzan Onsen, take the “Tsubasa” shinkansen along the JR Yamagata Shinkansen line. Get off at Oishida Station, and change to a route bus, which will bring you straight to Ginzan Onsen. The total trip from Tokyo Station to Ginzan Onsen takes a little over 4 hours.

As there are only five buses per day along that route, be very sure to check the bus timings before setting off to ensure a smooth journey.

If you’re flying in instead, you can land in Yamagata Airport. It takes one hour and fifteen minutes to reach Ginzan Onsen by bus.

Winter is the Best Season to Visit Ginzan Onsen

Winter is the Best Season to Visit Ginzan Onsen
In winter, the streets of Ginzan Onsen are filled with wisps of steam, making for a dreamy cityscape

Ginzan Onsen is especially beautiful in winter. During the winter nights, you can walk the streets of the onsen town along pavements lined in the whitest snow, and with the gentle lighting of the gas lamps, the view is stunning and dramatic. There are many people who plan their trips there during the peak travel season to see snow.

Things to do in Ginzan Onsen

Things to do in Ginzan Onsen
Obanazawa City Commerce and Tourism Association

The most enjoyable activity, by far, is exploring Ginzan Onsen town itself. Taking pictures along the street with snowfall is another excellent activity as well. As Ginzan Onsen is situated in the mountain range, it gets pretty dark by 6:00 p.m., and the best time to take pictures there is at sunset.

Besides this, “yukimi furo,” an outdoor hot spring that allows you to enjoy the snow while taking a soak, is a must-try of Japanese culture. It’s not easy to get reservations for a “rotenburo,” an outdoor hot spring, so when you do, be sure to make good use of the opportunity to take a relaxing soak and enjoy the beautiful winter atmosphere.

There is another draw for tourists to the Ginzan Onsen in winter, and that is the snow. The onsen is situated in a place known for heavy snowfall, and it starts snowing at the beginning of December. However, the heaviest snowfall occurs in January and February and continues till mid-March. As snowfall exceeding one meter is common, be sure to dress warmly and wear anti-slip shoes.

Recommended Hot Springs, Foot Spas, Dining and More

Recommended Hot Springs, Foot Spas, Dining and More

Five minutes away from Ginzan Onsen bus stop by foot, right at the entrance to the onsen town, is Shirogane-bashi Bridge, and right next to it is “Warashiyu”, a free foot spa and popular tourist attraction.

The waters used in this foot spa come from the same source that is used at all the onsens there, allowing you to enjoy the same waters.

As the foot spa is located outdoors, the temperature of the spa can vary wildly with the weather. Particularly in hot summers, the temperature of the foot spa can rise considerably, so it’s best to test it out with your hand before taking a full soak with your feet.

  • Warashiyu
    和楽足湯
    • Address Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa Shi, Yamagata Ken, 999-4333, Japan
    • Phone number: 0237-28-3933 (Ginzan Onsen Tourist Information Center)
      Hours: Free bathing
      Price: Free
      Closed: Open daily

For those who prefer a full hot spring experience, “Kyōdōyokujo Shirogane Yu” is the place to go. The unique triangular shape of the building is designed by the famed architect Kuma Kengo.

The bath itself is large, allowing four to five people to enter at the same time. The waters used here come directly from the source of the hot springs. Even though there aren’t services in other languages, the place is still regularly frequented by foreign visitors.

Though shampoo and body soap are provided, towels aren’t available, so you should either bring your own, or buy one from one of the souvenir shops along the street.

  • Kyoudouyokujo Shiroganeyu
    共同浴場しろがね湯
    • Address 433, Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa Shi, Yamagata Ken, 999-4333, Japan
    • Phone number: 0237-28-3933 (Ginzan Onsen Tourist Information Center)
      Hours: 8:00am - 5:00pm (last reception is 16:30)
      Fee: 500 yen, elementary school students 200 yen
      Closed: Irregular holidays

Must-try foods

Must-try foods
Of course, Ginzan Onsen has plenty of old shops with great foods to eat!

In onsen towns, it’s not just the ryokan that are famous, but the eateries and restaurants too. Famous even amongst these shops is the curry bread, at 210 yen, from Haikarasan-dōri Street.

The bread is made using “Nebarigoshi” wheat produced in Yamagata prefecture, which is filled with curry, then fried. The outside is crispy and crunchy, while the inside is soft with a mochi-like consistency.

The bread is filled well with curry, and the spicy aftertaste is delicious. It often gets sold out by evening, so be sure to reach the store early for a bite of this tasty snack.

  • Haikarasandori
    はいからさん通り
    • Address 451, Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa Shi, Yamagata Ken, 999-4333, Japan
    • Phone Number 0237-28-3888
    • Hours: 8:00am - 6:00pm (subject to change in winter)
      Price: Curry bread 210 yen
      Closed: Open daily

Besides curry bread, there’s another old shop with over a hundred years of history, the tofu shop “Nogawa Tofuya”, famous for their “Tachi-kui Tofu” at 170 yen.

The tofu is freshly handmade every morning, and the rich flavor and soft texture of the tofu are highly praised by customers. This shop only provides takeout, but you can enjoy the tofu at the rest point “Warashiyu” just next door.

  • Nogawa Tofuya
    野川とうふや
    • Address 427, Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa Shi, Yamagata Ken, 999-4333, Japan
    • Phone Number 0237-28-2494
    • Hours: 7:00am-Ends when sold out
      Price: Standing tofu 170 yen
      Closed: Irregular holidays

Where to Go for Lunch

Where to Go for Lunch
Soba at Izu-no-Hanza, a famous restaurant in Ginzan Onsen

For lunchtime, head down to the restaurant “Izu-no-Hana” for some soba. You can have some “Agenasu Oroshisoba”, soba with a generous helping of fried eggplant on top, for 1200 yen (without tax), or an extra-large serving of Yamagata Prefecture’s famous dish, “Itasoba”, for 1500 yen (without tax) for 1.5 times larger serving, or the “Tenzaru Soba”, soba with fried prawns and vegetables, for 1950 yen (without tax). You can also try the regionally exclusive “Soba Soft Cream” for 380 yen (without tax), making it the perfect place for tea time too.

The menu also includes ramen, rice bowls, and tempura, on top of the soba items we recommended. You can also try some alcohol from Yamagata prefecture too.

  • Izunohana
    伊豆の華
    • Address 440, Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa Shi, Yamagata Ken, 999-4333, Japan
    • Phone Number 0237-28-2036
    • Hours: 11:00am-10:00pm (Lunch is up to 2:30pm, Cafe is from 2:30pm to 6:00pm, Dinner is from 6:00pm)
      Fee: Fried eggplant grated soba 1200 yen
      Regular holiday: Wednesday (there is a temporary holiday)

End your trip at Shirogane-no-Taki Falls!

End your trip at Shirogane-no-Taki Falls!
Shirogane-no-Taki Falls

In the innermost part of this town is Shirogane-koen Park, which features a 22-meter-tall waterfall, Shirogane-no-Taki Falls, a popular tourist attraction.

About halfway down the falls, the stream splits into two, with a rapid, bubbling waterfall splashing down on one side, and a gentle stream flowing down on the other.

There is an observation deck along the shore facing the waterfall, and if you follow the designated walking path, it feels like you’re getting closer and closer to the waterfall.

With trees and other plants surrounding the falls, their leaves are bright green in spring and summer, come ablaze in red in autumn, and melt into a scene right out of a traditional Japanese painting in winter. With changing views that you can enjoy all year round, no matter when you go, it’ll definitely be a breathtaking sight to behold.

Walk Around Ginzan Onsen in a Rental Kimono

Walk Around Ginzan Onsen in a Rental Kimono
Airasugena is a great place where you can rent a kimono in Ginzan Onsen

Popular not just amongst the Japanese, but foreign visitors as well, is the kimono and hakama rental shop, Airasugena.

Despite the lack of foreign language services, there are many foreign visitors on tour groups who patronize the shop. There are kimono and hakama, traditional Japanese pants, with a wide variety of colors and prints available, and you’ll be absolutely spoilt for choice.

Picking the matching pieces is great fun too, and you can rent bags, umbrellas, and other accessories. Kimono for males are available as well, making this a great experience for couples.

Though wearing kimono is often seen as a difficult and arduous task, there are services to help you put on the kimono as well, so you can rest easy on that. Deck yourself in one of Japan’s representative outfits, and take pictures as you stroll down this onsen town for memories of an unforgettable journey.

  • Airasugena
    あいらすげーな
    • Address 438, Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa Shi, Yamagata Ken, 999-4333, Japan
    • Phone Number 0237-28-2811
    • Hours: 9:00am-4:00pm
      Price: 2000 yen for transformation course (60 minutes), 500 yen added for every 30 minutes extension
      Closed: Irregular holidays (closed in winter)

Where to Stay: Best Ginzan Onsen Ryokan

Where to Stay: Best Ginzan Onsen Ryokan
Don't just make Ginzan Onsen a day trip - stay overnight to really maximize the magic!

There are 13 ryokan available in Ginzan Onsen, including “Notoya Ryokan”, “Dentō-no-yado Kozankaku”, and “Ryokan Nasawa Heihachi”, as well as ryokan that allow you to just rent the onsen too.

The price of your stay in Ginzan Onsen depends largely on the grade of the ryokan you’re staying in too, and the price per night can range anywhere from 16,000 yen to 25,000 yen.

Even amongst these onsen, they each have their own unique features. For example, “Notoya Ryokan” is something of a symbol in Ginzan Onsen, and its structure is a registered Tangible Cultural Property of Japan. The building has a plaster relief finished in lacquer, so be sure to check that out!

Besides this, “Ryokan Fujiya” and the new building of Kozankaku, “Kuranoba”, are one of the very few Ginzan Onsen ryokan that provide beds in their lodging, instead of only futons.

  • Ryokan Fujiya
    • Address 443, Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa-shi, Yamagata, 999-4333
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Oishida Station (Ou Line / Yamagata Shinkansen)
      40 minutes by bus
    • Phone Number 0237-28-2141

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Ginzan Onsen Weather: Beautiful in Every Season

Though the Ginzan Onsen area is most popular in winter, you can definitely enjoy beautiful scenery here all throughout the year.

Even amidst the intense heat of Japan’s summer, Ginzan Onsen is located deep in the mountains, making it comparatively cooler, and more suitable for exploring and strolling.

On Saturday nights from May to October, you can hear voices calling out “yassho, massho” as dancers keep to the rhythm of the “Hanagasa Odori”, a traditional dance in Yamagata. The performance starts at 8:30 p.m., and lasts for approximately 20 minutes. For those who would like to see a cultural experience that is only available in Yamagata, be sure not to miss this!

There are three areas in the onsen town with free Wi-Fi, allowing you to connect for up to 60 minutes at a time, three times a day. Several of the ryokan are completely outfitted with Wi-Fi as well. Though few of the shops provide services in foreign languages, the “Ginza Onsen Sightseeing Map” available at the entrance to the onsen town can be found in foreign languages. The portable voice and audio translation device “ili” is available for rental too, so feel free to borrow one for your visit.

  • Ginzan Onsen
    • Address Yamagata Prefecture Obanazawa City Yamagata Large Ginzan Shinhata, 999-4333
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Oishida Station (Ou Line / Yamagata Shinkansen)
    • Phone Number 0237-28-3933

Text by: SHOE PRESs

Book an unforgettable experience in Ginzan Onsen!

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*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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