Exploring Ginzan Onsen - the real-life Spirited Away
Ginzan Onsen is dubbed as the most beautiful hot spring town in Japan. Nestled in the heart of the mountains in Yamagata, Ginzan Onsen is actually very small to be called a town, so not many people know about this place. After a tiring week of working in the sub-zero cold, we decided to reward ourselves with a warm day. Thus, Ginzan Onsen is the place to be.
We arrived at Oishida Station and instantly felt a bone-chilling of a cold winter afternoon. The small town is located deep in the gorge, so there is no tramway, only a shuttle bus at a specific time frame with a 720 yen/one-way trip ticket price. As far as I know, every day there are only 5 buses going back and forth, so to avoid having to wait for a long time, you should schedule the time reasonably:
- Trip from Oishida Station to Ginzan Onsen: 9:50 am, 12:35 am, 2:10 pm, 3:55 pm, 5:45 pm.
- Trip from Ginzan Onsen to Oishida Station: 7:05 am, 8:25 am, 10:35 am, 1:25 pm, 2:55 pm, 4:35 pm.
Sitting on a small old bus, we found Ginzan Onsen nestled in the heart of the mountain, spreading along the small Ginzan-gawa river with only 12 inns with ancient architecture. The inns here brought a touch of history and nostalgia from the signs to the pillars and the beams inside the house.
Since there were only a few hostels, it was pretty tricky to find a room, and the price was not low. We rented a ryokan (inn) for about 9 man/night, there were cheaper options, but they also cost a few ‘man’ or more. Therefore, many people just visit Ginzan Onsen for one day, combined with trips to other places in Yamagata and renting somewhere around this station for convenience and savings!
It was getting dark, and the snow was falling harder and harder. We quickly chose a suitable room for ourselves. The bright, cozy lights and meticulously arranged lanterns made me feel like I was a character from Ghibli Studio's famous movie "Spirited Away".
Even though the winter is cold, it is the most beautiful season when snow covers the town, creating such a tranquil scene.
The part we were looking forward to the most is a dip in the legendary hot water. The open-air bath was beautiful. True to its name, just stepping out of the changing room and we could see a natural scene where the outside is covered with trees, snowfall, and the fading sunlight.
Feeling extraordinarily comfortable and refreshing, I just wanted to soak forever like this because I knew it would be cold again when I get out of the bath. The water here was clean and good for our health because it contains many beneficial minerals that help us relax and feel comfortable. The wooden house, the lights, the snow, and the hot springs, all combined in harmony, gave me an experience like no other.
Besides, we also got a free foot bath, but this activity took place outdoors, and by this time, the snow was too thick, so we saved it for the following day. But for the time being, we had to fill our hungry stomach by walking around the inn's premises, enjoying hot local dishes.
Throwing a thick jacket on, we went out to hunt for beautiful photos. The Onsen town at night was so poetic; the wooden roofs became sanctuaries of snow, the golden lights shined on the drifting river. We could see many couples and families were strolling hand in hand along the small road. This is the life that everyone wishes for, a warm feeling in the middle of the cold winter in the mountains.
The following day, after a good night's sleep, we walked around Ginzan Onsen again before saying goodbye to it. Contrary to the bustling atmosphere at night, the daytime here seems to be calmer and soberer. The inns were primarily empty of guests and very quiet. It was very similar to the scene in "Spirit Away".
We took a stroll around, watching Shirongane waterfall still flowing down from a height of 20m despite the white snow covering the whole area. This town is tiny; if you just go from one end to the other, it only takes about 10-15 minutes. However, if I have more time, I would love to linger to explore every nook and cranny to talk more with the local people to better understand the idyllic life here.
We didn't have much time left, so we only had a cup of hot coffee before catching one of the few buses to return to Oishida station. Ginzan Onsen is an ideal stop for someone who wants to forget about their troubles and try to enjoy a quiet, leisurely life.
During autumn, Ginzan Onsen will put on a splendid yellow coat, and in winter, it will hide again behind several inches of thick white coats. No matter what season it is, I am sure it will bring a memorable experience to any visitor who has ever set foot in this land.
Here are a few pictures to give us a better view of Onsen town in the fall without snow:
Hi guys, my name is Huong Giang. I love travelling and Japan is the place that I can do what I desire to do. I hope my experiences will inspire you and it would be glad if we can share our things in common <3
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