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Japan: Yamagata Prefecture (Obanazawa / Ginzan Onsen)

One of the many alluring traits of Japan is its abundance of onsens (hot springs). Japan sits on the ring of fire and is home to 108 active volcanoes which make it a prime location for hot spring water. Here you will find a hot spring to suit just about everyone’s taste including everything from the ultra-luxurious spa to the very remote, bring a shovel and dig your own onsen bath type. There are many towns scattered throughout Japan that are known for their onsens and draw large numbers of visitors both locally and from abroad.

One such place is Ginzan Onsen (Silver Mountain Hot Spring) nestled in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. This picturesque area along the Ginzan River is a part of Obanazawa City which is known to have one of the highest snowfalls in the entire world. The average snowfall here is over 6.5 feet during any given winter season.

Originally developed around a silver mine, Ginzan Onsen’s attraction is its physical beauty. Secluded between the hills, it has a number of quaint bridges spaced every 65 feet connecting houses, shops and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) on either side of the river. The ryokans occupy 3 and 4 story wooden buildings that evoke nostalgic feelings of a bygone era. There is one exception however, the Fujiya Ryokan (http://www.fujiya-ginzan.com/english/index.php), a reconstructed 300 year old inn. Fujiya was rebuilt by the famous architect Kuma Kengo whose unique modern design incorporates the traditional design elements of the surrounding structures.

The center of Ginzan Onsen is designated as a pedestrian-only zone. It is particularly scenic in the evenings when the various buildings are all lit up and the streets and bridges are illuminated by gas lamps. The scenery is further enhanced during the winter by heavy snow that clings to the rooftops and walkways. This is the area where you can find two public baths and an ashiyu (Japanese foot bath) which you can take advantage of relatively inexpensively. Further, many of the inns allow non-staying guests to utilize their baths during the day for a nominal cost.

Behind Ginzan Onsen you will find the Shirogane-koen (park). The park offers many interesting attractions, such as the 72-foot high Shirogane-no-taki (waterfall). At the base of the waterfall you will find an entrance to the historic silver mine. Visitors can enter the lit-up tunnel and wonder the mine 65 feet inward. There is also a nature trail located 10-15 minutes away from the waterfall, where you will find another entrance into the mine. But please note that the nature trail is inaccessible during the winter months.

Visiting a Japanese onsen is an experience like no other and highly recommended to all visitors exploring Japan.  Whether you are drawn to the historic silver mine or you want the experience of an overnight stay at a traditional hot spring, Ginzan is the ideal choice. Ginzan Onsen is accessible from Tokyo via the JR Yamagata Shinkansen to Oishida Station. From there it is another 40 minutes on a bus until you reach your destination.

 

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Fujiya Inn

Fujiya Inn

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Ginzan Onsen Specialty, Kame Manju

Ginzan Onsen Specialty, Kame Manju

Web page: http://www.ginzanonsen.jp/#_=_

Fujiya Inn web page: http://www.fujiya-ginzan.com/english/index.php

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