Journey to Ginzan Onsen: The Hidden Hot Spring Village of Japan

Journey to Ginzan Onsen

Located in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, Ginzan Onsen Japan offers one of the most stunning winter landscapes. This hot spring town, straight out of a storybook, features traditional Taisho-Era wooden buildings and streets illuminated by gas lamps.

As you wander through this scenic spot, reminiscent of the movie Spirited Away, you'll encounter a row of grand bathhouses that promise a serene escape. Often cloaked in snow, Ginzan Onsen has become an iconic destination and the crown jewel of Yamagata.

Stay tuned until the end to find out how you can experience this magical place for yourself.


Ginzan Onsen Town


From Silver Mines to Hot Spring Haven: The Transformation of Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen, meaning "silver mountain hot springs," earned its name from a silver mine at the edge of town. Founded over 400 years ago, the town once buzzed with mining activity. When the mines closed, Ginzan Onsen reinvented itself as a top-notch hot spring destination.

Today, the town features hot spring hotels lined up along the river, all built with strict guidelines to maintain the classic elegance of their Taisho Era (1912 to 1926) design. These wooden-framed buildings with white plaster walls not only look stunning but also have starred in numerous dramas, adding a touch of romance to the town’s ambiance.

Behind the town lies a majestic 22-meter waterfall, with a trail leading to a portion of the old silver mine that visitors can still explore. However, this hike and access to the mine are closed in winter and early spring when heavy snow blankets the area, offering instead breathtaking snowy views.

For those looking to soak in the natural hot spring waters, be aware that most hot spring resorts cater exclusively to overnight guests. But don’t worry, if you’re just passing through, there are three public baths open for day visitors.

These baths charge a fee per use and offer gender-separated public bathing, though they close in the evenings during the winter. So, plan your visit accordingly and dive into the rich history and relaxing waters of Ginzan Onsen!


Natural Hot Spring in Ginzan Onsen


Traveling to Ginzan Onsen

Keep in mind that Ginzan Onsen Japan is tucked away deep in the mountains, making it a bit of a hidden spot. Public transport hasn't quite kept up with its growing popularity, so it's essential to plan your trip well in advance to make sure you get there without a hitch.

By Train

Start your journey from Tokyo by hopping on the JR Yamagata Shinkansen to Oishida Station. The ride takes about 200 minutes and costs around 12,500 yen one way.

From Oishida, catch a bus to Ginzan Onsen, which leaves every two hours and takes about 35 minutes for 720 yen. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, JR East Tohoku Area Pass, or JR East South Hokkaido Pass, your train ride is covered, but you'll need to pay extra for the bus.


JR Yamagata Shinkansen


By Car

If you prefer to explore at your own pace, renting a car is a great option. You can find rental car outlets at key stations along the Yamagata Shinkansen, including Murayama, Shinjo, and Yamagata stations, as well as at Yamagata Airport.

Once you arrive, you can park your car in lots that are just a 5–10-minute walk from the town center. Many ryokans offer a pickup service from these parking lots, making it even easier to get to your accommodation.

By Air

If you're flying in, Yamagata Airport is connected to Ginzan Onsen with two bus round trips each day.

The bus ride takes about 75 minutes and costs 1500 yen one way, and you don’t need to book your seat in advance. Just a heads-up: taxis in the area are scarce, so relying on the bus is your best bet to reach this hidden gem smoothly.


Shuttle bus from Yamagata Airport to Ginzan Onsen


By Bus

If you're planning to take the bus to Ginzan Onsen, keep in mind that it's quite small and may not keep up with the high demand during the busy winter and fall seasons.  It's not uncommon for passengers to be unable to board and have to wait for the next one, or even opt for a taxi. Given the very cold winter temperatures, which can drop to around -12 degrees Celsius, waiting for the next bus, which could be 60-90 minutes later, means you'll need to dress warmly.    

The bus also makes several stops between Oishida Station and Ginzan Onsen. Pay attention and make sure you don’t get off too early, as it could leave you in a tough spot, especially in cold weather. Winter travel to Ginzan Onsen can be challenging due to the large crowds and the freezing conditions, so planning ahead is essential.


Oishida Station



Kengo Kuma, a renowned Japanese architect, masterfully transformed the century-old Fujiya Onsen Hotel, a sprawling 10,000-square-foot property.

Kuma's innovative approach involved blending contemporary features with the building's traditional architecture, a technique that has been both bold and understated.

He preserved the classic post-and-beam facade while introducing modern elements like a sliding glass entrance, a spacious two-story atrium, expansive windows, and serene reflecting pools.

This fusion of old and new has revitalized the hotel, creating a standout destination that respects its historical roots while embracing modern design.


Fujiya Onsen Hotel


Tips for Visiting Ginzan Onsen

  • Best Time to Visit: The town is most beautiful when covered in snow, typically in the winter months.
  • Access Restrictions: The silver mine and forest paths are closed during winter due to snow.
  • Parking: There is a general parking lot near the hot spring ryokans for guest use.

Staying at Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen's visitors has skyrocketed, making it tough to secure a stay, especially during the peak winter months of December, January, and February.

To secure a room along the main street during these times, you typically need to book a year in advance. Most ryokans are family-run and prefer to take reservations over the phone in Japanese.

It's a good idea to ask a Japanese friend to make the call on your behalf, as this is a common approach for foreigners living in Japan. Be aware that if you don't speak Japanese fluently, some ryokans might claim they are fully booked even if they aren't.

Remember to be respectful and cover any cancellation fees, as many ryokans rely on good faith rather than credit card guarantees for bookings. Failing to pay a cancellation fee is considered very disrespectful in Japan’s trust-based culture.

If staying overnight proves too challenging, consider making Ginzan Onsen a day trip from Yamagata City, where you can find plenty of accommodation options and still enjoy the magic of this hot spring town.


Visitors at Ginzan Onsen


Exploring Other Onsen Towns in Yamagata Prefecture

Ginzan Onsen isn't the only gem in Yamagata Prefecture, there are plenty more onsen towns to explore! If Ginzan Onsen is fully booked, consider staying in another nearby onsen resort.

For winter travelers, Tendo Onsen is a great alternative, and you can easily take a bus from there to visit Ginzan Onsen for the day.

We also suggest following a traditional onsen route that dates back to the Edo Period. Start with a visit to the onsen at Mt. Zao, known for its highly acidic waters that naturally exfoliate and purify the skin.

Then, head to Kaminoyama Onsen, where the clear, soothing waters are perfect for moisturizing and rejuvenating your skin. This historic route offers a perfect blend of health benefits and scenic beauty, making for an unforgettable experience.