Take a trip back in time to the 1920s and discover this nostalgic snowy hot spring town

Travel back in time to Japan’s romantic Taisho era

Ginzan-onsen Hot Spring is situated in the city of Obanazawa of Yamagata Prefecture, in the foothills of the Ou mountain range; the longest mountain range in Japan, which runs vertically along the center of the Tohoku region of Honshu. Visitors can reach the town in around 40 minutes from Oishida Station (part of the JR Yamagata Shinkansen high-speed train network), on a classic 1920’s-era bus with a front-mounted engine.

The banks on either side of the Ginzan River which runs through the center of the town are lined with rows of traditional multi-story wooden buildings that are brimming with romantic Taisho-esque atmosphere, an exotic overlap of Japanese and Western-style cultures that became popular during the Taisho era. Ginzan-onsen is one of a handful of such hot spring towns in the Tohoku region.

The street lamps recreate the pale light of the gas lamps of bygone days, and the building designs are full of traditional old-world flavor that inspires a sense of nostalgia in any Japanese visitors, with colored tiles, latticeworks and brightly-colored wall reliefs applied throughout. The town is small enough to enable visitors to wander around it in around one hour. Why not enjoy a leisurely stroll around this enchanting 1920s era hot spring town?

Warm your body and mind in the cloudy hot spring waters

Each of the traditional inns at Ginzan-onsen allow their guests to enjoy bathing in the cloudy milky-white waters of the hot spring, and to enjoy the hospitality of their proudly-prepared cuisine.

Many of the inns are also fitted with open-air rotenburo-style baths that enable guests to bathe outside. Warming oneself in the hot water of an open air bath amidst the dancing snowflakes of the crisp, cold, winter air is a truly special and unique experience. Many inns also allow visitors who are not staying there overnight to make use of their bathing facilities. At the town’s two communal baths, visitors can enjoy bathing in a relaxed atmosphere together with the local bathers.

The Warashiyu hot water foot spa

The riverside Warashiyu foot spa can be tried by anyone free of charge. Bathers keep their clothes on and remove only their shoes and socks to bathe their feet in the hot spring water. The water for the foot spa is drawn from the same source as the baths in the inns, enabling visitors to take a towel with them and warm their tired feet as they stroll around the town.

Full and satisfied: Ginzan-onsen is also crammed with delicious cuisine

The Obanazawa cattle of Obanazawa city—in which Ginzan-onsen is situated—are a brand of Japanese Black beef cattle that are registered and certified under the strict standards of the Obanazawa-Grown Beef Promotion Association. Their meat is tender and beautifully marbled, with fat that seems to melt in the mouth with a delicate and refreshing aftertaste, and is served as a standard favorite in all of the town’s inns. The meat is often served as steak, or in thin slivers that are dipped and heated gently in hot water for a few seconds “shabu-shabu” style.

The character of the town changes with the seasons, and there are even more experiences to be had in Yamagata

Ginzan-onsen is most impressive with its snow-covered winter scenery, but can also be enjoyed during other seasons of the year. When the snow melts, the hot spring town reawakens as one that is rich in lush greenery. On Saturday nights between the months of May and October, visitors can enjoy watching locals perform the well-tempoed Hanagasa Odori dance on the bridges and streets of the town.

Between the melting of the snow in late March and the first snowfall in late October, Café I’rasgayna loans out traditional Japanese period costumes of the kind that were fashionable during the Taisho era. (The rental system is time-based.) Visitors who change into traditional period attire and have their pictures taken as they stroll around the town are sure to create unforgettable memories of their time in Ginzan-onsen.

Transformation course: 60 minutes, ¥1,500

Prior reservations are not required. English language support is available for costume fittings.

Yamagata Prefecture is also packed with spots where visitors can enjoy both traditional cuisine and popular, new modern tastes. Why not try and experience the varied tastes of Yamagata for yourself?