The attraction of Ginzan Onsen isn’t really the hot springs, but rather the Yamagata region’s icily fairy-like atmosphere. The magic of the village is undeniable! There’s no need for a pheromone potion to enrapture your heart’s desire here, especially in this cold.
Ginzan Onsen is a long way away. Far, far up in the North! And there’s nothing else around. The beautiful ryokan are extremely expensive, reserved for the elite, usually groups of Chinese masquerading as Japanese or as Pikachu.
For the rest of us, the untouchables in Uniqlo puffa jackets, the more reasonably priced ryokan aren’t much of a surprise, especially compared with anything else that’s affordable without travelling to the ends of the earth. I stayed at one of the earliest ryokan in the street. Its splendid frescoes date from the Taisho era.
The real danger is of finding yourself here without snow, after a 6-hour journey from Tokyo. So it’s important to check the weather forecast before setting out! And stock up on cash because the so-called affordable ryokan (at 100 euros / person) don’t usually take credit cards … 🤨
Ginzan is a former silver mine that was turned into a spa 400 years ago. The buildings you see today are more recent, from the Showa and Taisho eras (~70 years ago—very old in Japanese terms). Hey wait, stop! What? A mine? Abandoned!? Can’t let that pass! So that night I head off to find the tunnel entrance to this old mine.
Unfortunately, everything was covered in snow. Even the waterfall that’s meant to be there was invisible. But visitors can’t go very far along this tunnel as it’s only accessible for about 20 metres. Never mind 🥺
So I made my way back to the centre of the village to enjoy the very calm atmosphere, which you can’t take for granted. Tourists stay outside fooling around for hours, so you’ll need to be hardier than them! I lingered by this red bridge for a long time, hypnotized.
The morning light is really beautiful too, especially under a blue sky. If you’re not staying overnight, there’s also a welcoming café at the end of the main street.
I was rather disappointed by the lodging, food and hot spring aspects of Ginzan Onsen. There’s no local atmosphere to speak of, and the people that work here don’t live here.
Ginzan Onsen is a luxury destination. As for me, I had my fill (frozen!) by photographing the village and walking around, but if you don’t like the cold much and would rather relax, you’ll have to pay to truly enjoy it.
If you like hot springs with a Ghibli studio atmosphere, I suggest a trip to Yamanouchi: Chihiro, Monkeys & Onsen. If after seeing Ginzan you’d like to visit another beautiful onsen, we recommend Nyuto Onsen: Tsurunoyu
😍 If you’ve got a favourite onsen, share it with us!