The hot spring town of Ginzan Onsen
Featuring one of the most beautiful winter views in all of Japan, Ginzan Onsen is a picture-perfect hot spring town nestled in the mountains in the deep countryside of Yamagata Prefecture. With its beautiful Taisho-Era wooden buildings, streets lit by gas lamps, and a magnificent row of luxurious bathhouses, this location is like walking through a scene from Spirited Away.
If you are viewing this article, you undoubtedly have seen pictures of it covered in snow which is quickly becoming an iconic scene of Japan and the top destination in all of Yamagata. Read on to see how you can plan a trip here.
Free to explore
Ginzan Onsen can also be reached from Yamagata City via a local train to Oishida Station and then taking a local bus from that station.
If traveling in winter, see this article for more information.
A rental car is ideal for this location as well, but not for the winter when parking is difficult. See rental car options here.
It is most beautiful when it is covered in snow during the winter months.
The silver mine and forest path are not accessible during the winter due to snow.
Ginzan Onsen has a general parking lot nearby the hot spring ryokan where guests can park.
See below for lodging information.
Temperatures here in the winter are usually well below 0 degrees celsius, proper winter clothes are absolutely mandatory.
From Silver Mine to Hot Spring Resort
Originally obtaining its name from the silver mine located near the back of this town, Ginzan Onsen translates out to silver mountain hot springs and was founded over 400 years ago when it thrived off of its mining industry.
After its mines shut down, the town rediscovered itself as a premier hot spring resort by building a line of hot spring hotels along its river in the heart of the town with strict construction standards. With their wooden frames and white plaster walls, these buildings preserve the elegance of their Taisho Era (1912 to 1926) architecture and are romanticized through the many dramas that this town has been featured in.
Traces of its mining industry can still be seen within the town with gated-off mine shafts. There is even a mine in the back of the town that is illuminated and makes for a great nature walk as well. This mine can be visited from the Spring to the late Fall before the snow.
The nostalgic and warm feel that visitors often praise this town for is also thanks to the gas street lamps that give this town a soft glow.
Ginzan Onsen has also rose to fame based on rumors that Hayao Miyazaki used this town as inspiration for his iconic work Spirited Away. The authenticity of this rumor is unconfirmed as are many places around Japan that tell similar stories, but this town has nonetheless embraced this wave which continues to draw in massive numbers of visitors from around the world.
Ginzan Onsen also features a 22-meter waterfall located at the back of the town. There is also a short hike into the mountains behind the waterfall that leads to a section of the silver mine that you can still enter today.
Note that this hike and the silver mine are inaccessible due to heavy snow during the winter months and early spring. A small trade-off for the beautiful winter view you can enjoy.
To those wishing to enjoy the natural hot spring water, take note that a majority of these hot spring resorts are only for guests spending the night.
However, there are three public baths that you may for day visitors.
You must pay per use for these baths and bathing here is done in public bathing fashion separated by gender.
Note that these onsen baths are not open in the evening during the winter season.
Getting to Ginzan Onsen
Be aware that Ginzan Onsen is a remote town located deep in the mountains.
The infrastructure of its public transportation has not had time to catch up to its rapid rise to fame and getting to Ginzan Onsen must be planned out in advance.
Ginzan Onsen is located on the inland side of Yamagata Prefecture and is about one hour away from Yamagata City.
The closest train station to this onsen town is Ginzan Onsen. From this train station there is a local bus line that runs to Ginzan Onsen.
It is important to note that the local bus that transits from Oishida Station to Ginzan Onsen is a local bus that is designed for local residents. In the winter months this bus is upgraded to carry more passengers but it still cannot carry the number of guests who queue in line at Oishida Station.
If you are traveling in the winter, see this article for more information.
Winter poses immense challenges both due to the huge crowds that swam Ginzan Onsen in the winter and sub-zero temperatures of this mountain location.
Apart from the peak season of winter, Ginzan Onsen is usually easily accessible by the public bus.
In recent years the fall season around the end of October to the end of November has also become busy.
It is also important to note that there are a very limited number of taxis in this area.
During peak times it may not be possible to get a taxi if you are calling for one without a prior reservation.
A local guide named Mrs. Suzuki in Obanazawa City next to Ginzan Onsen offers taxi services that is specifically for foreign visitors.
She speaks very good English and can drive guests to and from Ginzan Onsen and also walk you around the town and wait in the parking lot for you to take photos and self explore.
These rates start from about ¥27,000 round-trip and are good option to take out the stress of the buses or driving with rental cars.
Please contact us for these bookings in our contact form.
Getting to Ginzan Onsen by rental car
With the exception of winter, rental cars are great for Ginzan Onsen.
They offer ease of access to the town and the roads there are countryside roads and are easy to drive on.
This is not true for the winter however where parking spaces are very hard to come by and a rental car can become a liability.
For those interested, you can see our rental car options here.
If you choose to go by car, parking lots we recommend include:
- Ginzanonsen Kyodo Parking Lot
¥500 yen, a 5-10 minute walk to Ginzan Onsen. Closed from December – April.
- Taisho Romankan
Free parking, take a 5-10 minute ¥300 round-trip shuttle bus from here to Ginzan Onsen.
The shuttle bus operates:
[Normal operating hours] 8:30 – 18:30
[Winter (December to March/April) operating hours] 9:00 – 18:00
[New Year’s holiday] 9:00 – 17:00
You will need to call the shuttle bus through the intercom at the hot-pink sign with a digital screen. See more information here (Japanese)
Getting to Ginzan Onsen by bus
There is a local bus line that operates between Oishida Station and Ginzan Onsen. You can reach Oishida Station via a local train from Yamagata Station, though be aware there is likely not be any English on the trains.
The local bus is called the Hanagasa Bus and departs Oishida Station approximately every 60-90 minutes and only operates 5 times a day. Note that the bus is not covered by the JR pass and costs 720 yen each way. It takes about 35 minutes for the bus to drive between Ginzan Onsen and Oishida Station. See this website for the bus schedule (Japanese).
A word of warning about using the bus.
Be aware that this bus is small and is not very suitable for the surge in demand that this onsen town sees in the winter and fall season. There are cases where passengers have not been able to fit into the bus and have had to wait for the next bus or even take a taxi instead.
This is very problematic in the winter where temperatures can be around -12 degrees celsius.
If you choose this transportation option you must be prepared to wait the 60-90 minutes for the next bus while you wait in line, heavy winter clothes are a must.
This bus will stop multiple times between driving between Oishida Station and Ginzan Onsen, so be careful not to get off at the wrong stop or you will be in a very tricky situation.
To verify with the bus driver you can show them this Japanese to ask the following questions, the driver should be able to respond with a simple yes or no. We also recommend using Google Maps to monitor your location and verify yourself if you are where you want to get off.
(Koko Wa Ooishida Eki Desu Ka?)
Is this Oishida Station?
(Koko Wa Ginzan Onsen Desu Ka?)
Is this Ginzan Onsen?
Staying at Ginzan Onsen
Due to its extreme surge in popularity among tourists, staying at Ginzan Onsen can be difficult to nearly outright impossible to stay at, depending on the time of the year.
If you wish to stay here during the snowy months of December, January, and February then you generally must reserve at least one year in advance to get a room along the main street. Most ryokan here are family owned and will only accept reservations via direct phone call that must be made in Japanese. We recommend having a Japanese friend making this call for you, this is how most foreigners who live in Japan get reservations at these places.
If they detect a strong foreign accent or improper Japanese, some of these places are known to say they have no rooms available even if there are vacancies.
As always, we strongly urge you to be responsible and pay for cancellation fees when incurred. Many ryokan do not take your credit card information for the bookings and technically have no means to make guests pay a cancellation fee. However, Japan is a country built on trust and it would be extremely disrespectful to take advantage of this culture.
Ginzan Onsen is an easy day trip from the many hotels of Yamagata City, so you can always just plan a day visit to this onsen town while basing yourself in the capital of Yamagata Prefecture.
Staying at other Yamagata Onsen Towns
Ginzan Onsen is just one of many dreamy onsen towns here in Yamagata Prefecture!
If you are not able to make a booking at Ginzan Onsen, you may still be able to book a room at another onsen resort.
If traveling in the winter, one option would be to stay at Tendo onsen and take a bus to visit Ginzan Onsen.
We highly recommend a traditional onsen route that has been popular since the Edo Period when visitors to Yamagata would first visit the onsen of Mt. Zao and then bathe in the onsen of Kaminoyama to treat a variety of skin ailments, and to refresh their skin.
The waters of Zao are highly acidic and have a strong exfoliating property which is said to purify your skin while the clear waters of Kaminoyama are soothing and moisturizing to help replenish your skin.