Japan is very well known for its onsen, the thermal baths which surounds the entire country. So, to find one it is not very difficult, but what about finding the perfect one? A few days ago I decided to visit Ginzan Onsen. I need to say this place is magical, especially for Christmas or a winter break.
While you can find various pieces of information on internet about the place, there are still details that are missing. Details that are key to plan your perfect day there. So, here I am to put all the pieces together and offer you a complete overview of the trip.
Ginzan Onsen is a very small village hidden between the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. The name itself means “The Silver Mountain Hotspring” because of the silver mine nearby that contributed to the village birth. However, today you won’t find any silver there, not even in the souvenirs shops – it is only history. But, the place today is famous for its magical view with the ryokan buildings (traditional Japanese wooden buildings) which are iluminating the streets during the night using gas lights.
Time to spend
One piece of information that I couldn’t find on internet before my visit to Ginzan Onsen was how much time should I spend in this place to fully enjoy it. Well, now, as I went there, I can tell you there is not much to do or see. You may need between 1 hour or a half a day here. It depends on when you visit and if you want to include a break on the way.
First of all you need to know that this place is a village. So even this should tell you something about its size – that is small! From the bus stop / parking till the “official entrance” of the village you need to walk like 2 minutes. Once you arrive down in the valley, you can walk till the end of the accessible path (in the winter) in about 5 minutes. This should give you an overview about the size of the place!
However, even if the village is very small, there are some good reasons behind to visit Ginzan Onsen. So let me tell you what you can expect!
The place is beautiful to see no matter the season. However, in my opinion the best view it is offered during the winter. As much as I hate the cold, I need to admit this was one of the best winter memories I gathered. Take a look of the pictures, I think you’ll agree with me this is a winter wonderland. As an advice, don’t foget to come well prepared for the winter as it’s quite cold and you may find a lot of snow!
One of the main reasons you may visit Ginzan Onsen is for a relaxing onsen visit, right? Well, there are two onsen in the village accessible to the public.
However, when I went only Shiroganeyu Onsen (the public bath) was open with a more limited opening hours than usual (9am – 4pm, last entrance at 3.30pm) because of the covid. But don’t get too excited with the onsen as there is something more to know. The entrance is limited per group, this means you cannot enter the onsen with somebody you don’t know (which is basically not a friend or family) in order to prevent the covid spreading. This means you need to queue and wait for your turn, in the conditions where there is no time limit to be spent inside. So you’ll never know when the people inside decides to leave or if they will spent there a couple of hours. What can I say, good luck as you may need it!
If you suceed to get in, expect to find a very small onsen (check the pictures). I think even when in running in full capacity it cannot host more than 5 people at once. Like in the majority of the onsen, the spaces are separated from man to women and the rule is to get in naked, no swimsuit allowed!
The other onsen (that was closed when I went) is called Omokageyu onsen and it is a public private bath. This means you can go with your own group and have a 50 minute of privacy for 2000¥. Check before, as you may need to book in advance a slot even in normal conditions.
If you don’t have the time or the willingness to visit a proper onsen, you can still enjoy a free foot onsen on the streets on the village. I would say it is harder to really enjoy it during the winter when is cold and wet around, but were people willing to try it even when I went.
During the summer you can visit a temple and a shrine located on the hills around. But during the winter the roads are closed because of the snow, so all you can see is this small shinto shrine inside the village (for fertility, marital harmony and safe child birth). It is You may pass without noticing it, so keep your eyes open to not miss it.
Kaminohatayaki togei center
If you’re willing to walk 25 minutes outside the village, you can visit a small pottery museum and center. Honestelly, there is not much to see apart from one big room. However, if you’re passionate about pottery or you’re interested to buy some, you may want to stop by. The entrance is free and they do offer an English brouchure to learn about the traditions and the history of the place.
If you visit Ginzan Onsen during the summer, you can visit a few more places – as the roads are not closed because of the snow. For example, you can see a 22 meters high waterfall located at the end of village. Honestelly, I could also see it during the winter but from far away. There is also the 500 years old silver mine to be seen. Bare in mind that was one of the largest in entire Japan!
Even the place to buy souvenirs are quite limited. If I’m not wrong I counted three shops only. The good part is that they are very well equipped so you have many options to chose from, from handmade artifacts, to sake or regional products. Don’t miss the Meiyuan shop at the entrance which sells also homemade sweets (it’s like a small bakery as you can see in the picture). I bought all the three types of “moki” and were nice, but far away from beeing sweet (like in Europe)!
Food & Drink
I normally start my day with a good coffee, so this is what I done also here! The only cafeteria in the town is call Kurie/Crie (or Cote de la poste) and it has an one hour limit to stay. It is quite pricy, so you pay for the view or for getting heated when are no other options around.
Before leaving the place you need to stop by and try to local food. The only open restaurant is called Izunohana and it’s hard to miss it as normally there is a queue in front of it. I personally tried the hot soba (noodles) with eggplant -it was delicious. You should also try the Obanazawa beef and the watermelon products (as it’s one of the top producers)! P.S. This is a traditional restaurant, so you’ll stay on the floor while eating at the small table – and of course, shoes are not allowed inside!
The way you plan your journey and especially the transportation it is key for the success of the day. If you’re coming from Tokyo, I have the perfect shedule for you, so keep reading.
You need to catch the first train in the morning at 6:12am from Tokyo station towards Oishida station (via JR Yamagata Shinkansen) to arrive there at 9:40am – about 200 minutes. The ticket is covered by the JR East Pass, if not an independent ticket is about 11,000¥.
Once you arrive, you exit the station and on the left you’ll find the bus stop and normally the bus already waiting to take you to Ginzan Onsen at 9:50am. The journey takes about 30 minutes and it costs 720¥ one way. It will leave you before the entrance of the village, so you’ll need to walk like 2 minutes to arrive at the place itself – which is pedestrian only, by the way.
For the way back, if you’re still using public transportation (and not a taxi) you need know that the last bus leaves at 6:20pm, so don’t miss it! It may get crowded as many people are taking it in order to catch the lights – as the previous one is at 4:20, so too early to see everything lighted up.
Once you arrive back to the Oishida Station, you need to wait a bit more than an hour to catch the Shinaknsen at 20:07 towards Tokyo. And that’s it!
As an advice, don’t get lazy and take the next morning train from Tokyo (around 7am). You’ll wait longer for the bus and you’ll reach Ginzan Onsen around middday. I know this from some people I met on the road, so it’s not the best plan!
The accommodation in Ginzan Onsen is expensive, and only when you take a look at its size you can understand why – you will have an exclusive place! According to the tourist office, the cheapest places you can find is about 20,000¥ for a shared place, going up to 50,000¥ for a private room.
Still, you don’t have to rob a bank to visit the place. You can chose to stay in Yamagata, which is nearest big town and the capital of the region. There are many affordable hotels starting with 3,000¥ per night. Don’t foget to book with gototravel campaign if you’re not travelling during the unavailable dates.
That’s it from my side! I hope you’ll pay a visit to Ginzan Onsen as it’s really worth in the effort, even for a day trip from Tokyo. I would definatelly recommend the place during the winter. The snow transforms this place into a real magic world, it’s like a fairytail land hidden from the eyes of the tourists.
Meanwhile, get some more inspiration for your next travel adventures around Japan or not only here.