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Tohoku | Yamagata

Ginzan Onsen

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Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen (銀山温泉) is a hot spring village located in the mountains of Obanazawa of Yamagata Prefecture. The area is known as one of Japan’s prettiest onsen towns with their ryokans adjacent and parallel to the river. It is secluded in an area that developed around the silver mine. The hot spring town was named after the Nobezawa Silver Mine since gin (銀) translates to silver and zan (山) for mountain. The silver mine was first discovered in 1456 by accident. During the early Edo period the mine went through a golden age where over 20,000 people worked in the caverns. It was around this time that the Ginzan Onsen was founded and developed. Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) started to line up along the Ginza River giving it a romantic atmosphere in an isolated environment. When the silver mine collapsed in 1689 the hot spring town continued to operate despite the closure. It became a popular onsen town in 1741 where people from all over would go to experience the curative waters.

In 1913, a huge flood destroyed many of the inns in the area and damaged the flow of hot spring water. Larger sources of hot spring waters were found after drilling actions in 1926. The ryokans were later reconstructed, but these new wooden buildings reached 3 to 4 stories high. The present ryokans lined up on both sides of Ginza River were built during this time. There is a law that protects and preserves this part of town to maintain its nostalgic atmosphere. Recently Kuma Kengo, a famous modern architect, rebuilt one of the ryokan in the center of the town. The Fujiya Ryokan, which Kengo designed, fuses modern building elements while keeping a traditional aspect. It still has exposed wood and white plastered walls like the surrounding buildings. In order to keep the town center from getting cluttered with cars, it has been deemed a pedestrian only zone. The narrow streets and lack of parking allows visitors to enjoy strolls around Ginzan Onsen.

Shirogane Park is located at the end of the lined up ryokans where you will be greeted by the 22-meter-high Shirogane no Taki waterfall. Further upstream you will see the Rion no Taki waterfall and the Senshin Valley that has a monolithic riverbed. If you are feeling more adventurous then take a 30-minute tour through the illuminated silver mine tunnels of Nobezawa. However, during the winter season access to the silver mine will be unavailable due to the heavy snowfall. In the wintertime when Ginzan Onsen is blanketed in snow, the gas lamp illumination adds to the romantic and nostalgic atmosphere of an era gone by. The nighttime illumination happens every night, but the snow falling while glistening with the light provided from the flames is breathtaking.