How to Enjoy Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata, Tohoku With a Nostalgic Townscape
Ginzan Onsen, located in Yamagata Prefecture, Tohoku, is a place that draws people in with its nostalgic streets that have retained the vibe and scenery from the Taisho era (1912 – 1926). Below are ways to enjoy this area, along with some sightseeing spots in the prefecture that you ought to visit!
What is Ginzan Onsen?
Ginzan Onsen is a hot spring area that is tucked in the mountains of Obanazawa City in Yamagata Prefecture. Both sides of the river that flows through the city are lined with Western-style wooden ryokan (Japanese-style inns) that were built from the end of the Taisho period until the early years of the Showa era (1926 – 1989). When evening comes, the area is lit by gas lamps, further adding to the atmosphere. It is a spot where visitors will get to enjoy pleasant hot springs while being surrounded by picturesque views in every season, such as fresh verdure, autumn foliage and a snowy landscape.
Soak in the Hot Spring to Your Heart’s Content!
At Ginzan Onsen, the hot spring that gushes out along the river is a famous hot spring with a milky white color that is mixed with yunohana (minerals deposited in hot spring waters). The water here has a superior moisturizing ability that makes skin smooth and moist. It also has a heat retention effect, so your body will feel warm even after you get out of the bath.
Aside from the baths inside the ryokans that let you enjoy the hot spring water, there are also two public baths in the area: The old-fashioned Kajika-yu (300 JPY for adults) at the center of town, and the Shirogane-yu (500 JPY for adults) at the entrance to the town. The Shirogane-yu is characterized by its modern design, which was made by the famous Japanese designer, Kengo Kuma. There are also private family baths that can be rented called Omokage-yu (1,600 JPY). You can even dip your toes in the footbath by the river.
Sightseeing Spots in Yamagata Prefecture
If you are visiting Ginzan Onsen anyway, then why not go a little farther and explore the following tourist spots in the prefecture?
1. Mt. Haguro’s Five-Storied Pagoda
Mt. Haguro is one of the Dewa Sanzan, which are three mountains that are considered sacred under the ancient Shugendo (Japanese religion that worships mountains). It used to be the center of Buddhist culture in Tohoku, so there are plenty of cultural assets within this mountain. One such asset is the Five-storied Pagoda, which has been designated as a National Treasure of Japan. Tucked in the middle of a cluster of cedar trees, you will see its graceful form that is characterized by its wooden structure, shingled roof and three-room, five-tier design.
Going by the official name "Houjusan Risshakuji Temple", Yamadera is a beloved temple located in Yamagata City that boasts a long history that dates back to 860. It was founded as a branch temple of Hieizan Enryakuji, the head temple of the Tendai sect (one of the sects in Buddhism). The entire mountain is the precinct of this temple, and the steep slope is dotted with shrines and halls. The stone staircase up to the Okunoin (inner sanctuary) at the end of the road to the shrine has 1,015 steps! The Godaido (a hall dedicated to five guardian kings) near Okunoin has the best view within the temple grounds, as it gives visitors a massive panoramic view of the townscape at the foot of the mountain, along with the mountains that surround that town.
Entrance fee: (Adults) 300 JPY
(Junior high school students) 200 JPY
(Children 4 years old or older) 100 JPY
Located in Yamagata City, Bunshokan is a brick building that was built in 1916. It has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan, and is considered a precious building that represents Western-style architecture at the time that it was constructed. It used to serve as the prefectural government office and prefectural assembly hall, but after a major renovation, it is now being used as a museum for exhibiting Yamagata’s history and culture. You can also tour its luxurious interiors, which have been faithfully restored.
Don’t Miss Yamagata’s Specialty Dishes!
Relishing the unique tastes of the area you are visiting is also one of the real pleasures of traveling, right? If you come to Yamagata, you must try the local dish, Imoni, that the locals love. This stew that contains taro, meat and vegetables normally comes in soy sauce or miso flavors. The soy sauce variant uses beef and is commonly eaten in the inland areas, while the miso variant contains pork and is popular in the Sea of Japan region. When fall sets in, the locals gather around a pot and enjoy Imoni with their families and friends at riverbeds all over the prefecture. At Yamagata Nagaya Sakaba in Yamagata City, there are four types of Imoni served. Aside from Imoni, there are many other local dishes in every area in the prefecture, so make sure to check out those places and try their food!
The spots featured in this article are located in areas that are about one to two hours by car from Ginzan Onsen. If you have time, please make sure to visit these places to fully enjoy the charms of Yamagata!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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