Ginzan Onsen - Best Ryokan and Things to Do in Japan’s Most Secluded Onsen Town

Ginzan Onsen, in Yamagata Prefecture, is a hidden gem that beckons travelers with its timeless charm, nostalgic ryokan and therapeutic onsen. Visitors can experience Taisho-era charm from its preserved inns, while enjoying the breathtaking natural beauty in the surrounding mountains. To thoroughly soak up the most of your time at Ginzan Onsen, stay at these recommended ryokan, dine at the suggested restaurants, and enjoy the local activities!

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Why Is Ginzan Onsen Famous?

Tucked inside Japan’s Tohoku region, Ginzan Onsen was once a mining colony in the town of Obanazawa for miners digging deep into the nearby Nobesawa Silver Mine. The mine was first discovered during the Muromachi Period (1336 - 1573) and soon, inns and housing sprung up to accommodate travelers and workers. Later, in the early Edo Period (1603 - 1868), natural hot springs were discovered and utilized throughout the area. During the Edo period, Nobesawa was known as one of the top 3 silver mines in Japan. Unfortunately, the amount of silver produced declined over time and, after a debilitating collapse in 1689, the mine was abandoned. Thanks to the abundance of natural onsen, however, the appeal of the town endured and became a hot spring resort, with the mine itself becoming a tourist attraction.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Ginzan Onsen?

While definitely gorgeous during spring and summer, Ginzan Onzen truly shines during the latter part of the year. As the village is nestled snug inside of a mountain valley, autumn is an ideal time to hike and explore the surrounding area for vibrant red and golden leaves. In winter, visitors should expect heavy snowfall but it is also the time when the hot spring town truly serves its purpose in providing a steaming escape from the elements.

How To Get To This Hidden Onsen Town?

Due to its secluded nature, Ginzan Onzen is a bit off the beaten path, but there are several methods of transportation that we recommend. If you’re traveling from Tokyo by train, it will take you about three hours on the Yamagata Shinkansen to get to Yamagata’s Oishida Station. From there, it’s an additional thirty minutes to Ginzan Onsen by shuttle bus or taxi. A number of "ryokan" traditional inns in Ginzan Onsen, like Takimikan, provide free shuttle services to and from Oishida, but we suggest calling ahead to confirm . For those who prefer air rather than rail, it takes about one hour by plane from Haneda Airport to Yamagata Airport, then a 75-minute ride on the Oishii Yamagata Airport Tourist Bus to Ginzan Onsen. 

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Best Things to Do in Ginzan Onsen

Warashiyu Foot Bath - Warm Your Feet Up While Taking in the Splendid Scenery

Ginzan Onsen’s free communal “ashiyu” (foot bath) is just the ticket for tired tourists. The wooden footbath sits at the edge of the Ginza River, where you can warm your feet up while taking in the scenery after a long day of hiking, shopping or both. The source of the bath is the same pure water that flows into the inns, guaranteeing that your toes receive the best possible experience.

Shiroganeyu, Kajikayu, and Omokageyu - Take a Dip in Ginzan Onsen's Public Baths

Visitors don’t need to stay in one of the luxurious ryokan to take a dip in the renowned hot springs. Public baths in Ginzan Onsen are available throughout the year and offer travelers a way to relax, while feeling the atmosphere of Japan’s bygone days. There are a total of three baths, Kajikayu, Omukageyu, and Shiroganeyu. While the former two are closed at the moment, we recommend a dip in the latter.

Designed by the inimitable Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, Shiroganeyu is a communal bath that seamlessly blends in with the traditional architecture of Ginzan Onsen with its black wooden lattice exterior.

Enjoy Ginzan Onsen's Nature - Shirogane Falls, Shirogane Park, and Senshin Gorge

Ginzan Onsen offers a range of outdoor activities, starting with Shirogane Park, where you can enjoy a leisurely stroll or a more adventurous hike. In this picturesque park, you'll find the breathtaking Shirogane Falls, just a short walk from the town center. This 22-meter-high waterfall is a sight to behold, with its single stream splitting into two and flowing into a clear pool surrounded by lush greenery. The vermilion Sekoi Bridge at the waterfall's entrance adds to its charm.

If you want to explore further and escape the waterfall's spray, head upstream to the serene Senshin Gorge, carved by the Ginzan River. Here, you'll discover the 3-meter-high Rion Falls, providing a lovely and less crowded alternative to Shirogane Falls.

Nobesawa Silver Mine Cave - Brave the Steep Stairs Leading Into Ginzan Onsen's Famed Silver Mine

As it’s the namesake of the town itself (Ginzan means "silver mine" in Japanese), this nationally designated site is a must see. A mere 15 minutes walk from Ginzan Onsen, curious visitors can brave the steep stairs leading into the silver mine, complete with bridges and lighting to assist you in navigating the rocky interior. The otherworldly silence and cool breeze will enthrall you, while the abandoned mining shafts will make your heart race!

Best Places to Eat in Ginzan Onsen

Takimitei - Delicious Soba and Waterfalls Views

Located inside Bettei Takimikan, annex of Takimikan which is known as the “inn of waterfalls and soba noodles”, is the luxurious Takimitei, a cozy wooden restaurant perfectly elevated for guests to gaze out and enjoy Ginzan Onsen’s picturesque scenery from above. Takimitei’s specialty is freshly ground, freshly made, and freshly boiled soba noodles that are best paired with local vegetables and meat from Obanazawa’s mountains and fields. The mesmerizing views of the Shirogane Falls in the background help to make it a truly singular dining experience.

Izu no Hana - A Family-Owned Business Making Delicious Soba Since 1952

Another reputable soba restaurant, Izu no Hana has been a family-owned business since 1952 and prides itself on their carefully selected stone-milled buckwheat flour from Obanazawa. Inside of this 140-year building, artisan chefs create soba that is uniquely flavored soba with a light texture that is simultaneously chewy and mouth-watering. If that alone doesn’t get your taste buds moving, then try their most popular dish, “age nasu oroshi soba” (soba with fried eggplant and grated daikon radish) in a light homemade bonito soup. Inside, you have your choice of first or second floor seating, with the latter giving you gorgeous townscape views and a glimpse at the rushing Ginzan River below.

Nogawa Tofuya - Stop By This Long-Established Eatery for the Freshest Tofu

If you’re not in the mood for anything heavy, then definitely try the long-established Nogawa Tofuya. There are several varieties of handmade tofu to try, like fried, boiled or raw, all at dirt cheap prices. According to locals, the best way to consume your tofu is with both of your feet submerged in the aforementioned Warashiyu, located a few steps away. With limited daily quantities of tofu, it may be pay to head there early!

Best Places to Shop in Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen Taisho Romankan - The Perfect Stop for Local Specialty Goods

If you come to Ginzan Onsen by shuttle bus, this is a stop on the route that you just can’t miss. The very Western-like Taishoro Mankan isn’t just a tourist facility, but a souvenir shop and restaurant all in one. Specialty goods at the shop include “ginzan manju” (brown sugar bun filled with sweet bean paste and chestnuts) and “kujira mochi” (a type of rice cake). The restaurant naturally features Ginzan Onsen’s own soba, along with a delicious selection of tempura.

Edoya - An Adorable Wooden Shop With Timeless Souvenirs

While leisurely walking the grounds of Ginzan Onsen, you may come across this adorable wooden shop run by the owner and his wife. Edoya, true to its name, offers a variety of timeless trinkets, cat-centric items and traditional snacks that capture the historical essence of the area, but also local goods. Drinks exclusive to Yamagata prefecture are available for purchase, as well as several interesting variations on Obanazawa prized watermelons. If you’re having trouble locating Edoya, just look for the red Taisho-era mailbox outside and you can’t miss it.

Yagihashi Shoten - Taste and Buy Yamagata's Prized Sake

Besides soaking in the onsen , another way to warm up in the middle of a winter is sake, and there is no better place to sample or purchase Yamagata sake than Yagihashi Shoten. Here, you can find a wide range of alcoholic options to suit every preference, including flavor, style and potency. With so many options, having one of the kind and knowledgeable experts assist you is the best place to start. Once you find a taste to your liking, why not take a seat at the bar and enjoy sipping your sake while watching the river flow?

Best Ryokan and Hotels in Ginzan Onsen

Notoya Ryokan - A Wide Variety of Hot Spring Baths for a Relaxing Soak

When darkness falls on Ginzan Onsen, one inn illuminates the night with its massive 4-storied  presence and welcoming glow. Notoya Ryokan is not only the quintessential accommodation while you’re visiting the area, but it’s registered as a tangible cultural property. With two intimate open-air baths, a large enclosed bath and a novelty cave bath that has been in operation since the ryokan’s opening in 1892, there is no shortage of options for a relaxing soak. Obviously, as the hotel is in high demand, the rooms are reserved quickly, so it’s best to make a reservation well in-advance.

Kozankaku - A Ryokan Seamlessly Blending Japan’s Past and Present

The first thing you’ll notice about Kozankaku is that the exterior has been preserved in Taisho-era style, but once inside, you’ll find the ryokan’s past blending seamlessly with the present. Kozankaku boasts refined rooms with “tatami” traditional straw mat flooring, while the onsen themselves are the main focal point. Two nostalgic indoor baths, one with warm wood and other cool stone, are available, as well as two elegant and renovated private baths located on the first and third floors of the main building. As one of Ginzan Onsen's high-end inns, guests should reserve their rooms in advance. 

Takimikan - Stay at the “Inn of Waterfalls and Soba”

As we’ve previously mentioned, Takimikan’s mouth-watering annex restaurant and free transport service already elevates its status as an exemplary ryokan but the “inn of waterfalls and soba” truly thrives thanks to its simply breathtaking views and elegance. Whether your room is luxurious and modern, or in a traditional Japanese style, the large open windows give you an alluring view of Ginzan Onsen’s mountains throughout the seasons. This view is compounded and especially spectacular while bathing in its unparalleled open-air spa, enhanced by the wild breeze and scent of nature. Again, it is highly recommended to make reservations ahead of time.

Kosekiya - A Traditional Inn of an Undeniable Retro Charm

Currently run by the 14th generation of Koseki Kichizaemon, this 3-story ryokan was built in 1914 and, after recent renovations, is listed as a cultural property in Ginzan Onsen, and for good reason. The traditional wooden Japanese architecture lends the inn an undeniable Taisho-era charm, from its “tatami"-floored rooms, to its romantic old-fashioned corridors, sending guests on a trip through time. Moreover, this ryokan’s onsen offerings are a cut above the rest. Not only boasting two large indoor baths filled to the brim with fresh hot spring water, but guests can have the bonus option to relax in the spacious baths at Kosekiya’s sister inn, Ginzanso, free of charge. This should come as no surprise, but please plan your stay ahead of time to avoid missing out.

Fujiya - A Luxury Ryokan Creating a Truly Novel Experience for Its Guests

Perhaps the most modern of ryokan on our list, every aspect of the Fujiya has been carefully constructed using traditional Japanese elements, such as "washi" paper covering the walls, to create bright and modern aesthetics. There are eight rooms in the entire establishment, all facing the Ginzan River and allowing guests to take in beautiful views of the hot springs town.

Fujiya also boasts five unique onsen that have been designed according to their themes. For example, the "bamboo bath" is surrounded by bamboo side walls, while the "cedar bath" is enclosed tightly in warm wood. Each of the onsen uses light and other elements to create a truly novel experience for guests. At this point, it goes without saying that an advance reservation would be advised.

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Immerse Yourself in the Retro Charms of Ginzan Onsen

Your first impression of Ginzan Onsen may be akin to wandering into a dream, or at least a Miyazaki Hayao movie, which is completely understandable. Besides its relevance in Japan’s history, the retro preservation is the main part of its appeal, and we definitely recommend this onsen oasis. If you ever stumble upon this charming village cut off from time, we hope our ryokan, dining, and onsen suggestions will serve as a reliable guide!

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Tohoku Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

Joshua Furr
Joshua hails from North Carolina, USA (home of bluegrass, flight, and Pepsi), but he prefers a life abroad. He loves digging into Japan’s rich folklore, soaking in an onsen and hiking, but his real passion is discovering the hidden gems that lie in the castle town of Joetsu, Niigata. When he’s not writing, you can find him happily enjoying a steaming bowl of gyudon.
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