Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata prefecture’s Obanazawa city originates from Nobezawa Silver Mine which used to operate during Edo period. The hot springs town was the setting of NHK’s TV series “Oshin” and became quite popular after the show. The old architectural style of the multi-storey wooden inns lined up along Ginzan River brings a unique nostalgic atmosphere to this place. The scenery is especially picturesque in the snowy winter! Let me tell you more about this nostalgic and romantic hot springs town.
Ginzan Onsen covered in snow
Ginzan Onsen is a town with a 500-year long history nestled in the Ouyama mountain range and surrounded by nature. A big flood in 1913 destroyed many of the inns and caused the hot spring water to almost disappear, but then in 1926 larger sources were discovered through drilling and the western style inns with their 3-4-storey wooden buildings were reconstructed. The current view of the inns lined up on both sides of Ginzan River was developed during the reconstruction and is now protected by law in order to preserve the romantic and nostalgic scenery.
NHK’s TV series “Oshin” which featured Ginzan Onsen was on air for a year in 1983. It achieved an average viewer rating of 52.6% and also the single highest viewer rating for a TV show in Japan – 62.9%. The series was exported to over 70 countries and became the most successful Japanese TV drama in the world. The snow-covered Ginzan Onsen is truly like the world depicted in “Oshin”. The snowy landscape contributes to the retro image of the old town.
Warashiyu public footbath
Warashiyu is a public footbath near the entrance of the inn district, close to Shirogane Bridge and facing Ginzan River. Everyone can use the natural hot spring there from 6 am to 10 pm for free. You can dip your feet in the water and enjoy a pleasant time watching the retro town streets and the river.
Ginzan Onsen’s “kote-e” art
One of the highlights of Ginzan Onsen is the kote-e art you can see on every inn’s walls, signboards and shutter boxes. They’re made by skillful plasterers applying plaster to the walls in various shapes and figures.
After the big flood in 1913 the old thatched-roof houses were destroyed and the town was reborn with multi-storey wooden buildings. Every inn competed to become to most spectacular by having the best kote-e art design, therefore this is a rare place to see so much of the art in one town. The art is the trademark of each inn and often depicts lucky things. The main façade of Kozankaku inn is particularly impressive with its kote-e images depicting various annual festivals in a picture book style.
The evening scenery of the gas lamps
Gas lamps illuminate the wooden inns lined up along Ginzan River and create an even more charming romantic atmosphere. The view near the centrally located Shirogane Bridge is especially gorgeous and symbolic of this hot springs town, therefore a law was made to protect the scenery. Most of the inns face the river so you’ll quickly reach the end of the town by walking a few minutes away from Shirogane Bridge. Be sure to visit Ginzan Onsen not only at daytime, but to stay overnight and walk around the lit up charming town at night.
Shirogane Falls is just outside Ginzan Onsen
There are a few nature trails that begin at the end of Ginzan Onsen. Walking leisurely in the nature is also one of the pleasures of visiting the town. The autumn colors are especially magnificent, but note that from the first snowfall until early May the nature trails are inaccessible due to snow. But even in the winter season you can enjoy the view of Shirogane Falls near the entrance of the trails. Ginzan Onsen is a small town whose end can be reached within a few minutes’ walk from the central Shirogane Bridge. At the end of the town, near Takimi Inn, you can see the spectacular 22-meter tall Shirogane waterfall. It is easily accessible so be sure to take a short walk and see it.
Ginzan Onsen is located about a 40-minute bus ride away from Yamagata Shinkansen’s Oishida Station. There are also private buses of the inns which can pick you up upon request. The town is a pedestrian-only zone, therefore guests of the inns can only park at the designated places, while daytrip visitors should park in the open area 3-minutes away from the town.
The spring water is rich in salty hydrogen sulphide and is good for nerve pain, rheumatism, skin diseases, healing wounds, adult and women’s diseases. Besides the indoor baths of every inn, there are also three public baths which have remained since the nostalgic time when the town was a health resort.
Shiroganeyu Open all year round from 8 am to 5 pm, adult 500 JPY, children 200 JPY Kajikayu Open all year round from 8 am to 8 pm, adult 300 JPY, children under 12 free Omogakeyu Open all year round from 10 am to 5 pm, 2000 JPY for 50 minutes (private family bath)
There are a total of 13 inns at Ginzan Onsen, but only one of them has over 20 rooms, while 7 others are small and cosy with fewer than 10 rooms. You will feel as if you’ve been transported to another dimension when you walk around this nostalgic small town with its old wooden buildings. Treat yourself with this extraordinary experience!
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