In December 2019, we took a 35-minute bus-ride from Oishida Station (four stops from Yamagata Station) to Ginzan Onsen. The road wound through snowy fields of farmlands, seemingly abandoned in the winter. The boarded-up houses, some with plastic sheets flapping in the wind, lent a post-apocalyptic desolation to the landscape. We alighted in a parking lot into ankle-deep snow and followed the groups of passengers, shuffling along in zombie-like motions, in semi-darkness (it was around 6pm) towards what we hoped was our final destination.
Sparkling warm lights assailed our vision, just as we rounded a bend in the icy road. Like a scene from a fairy-tale, road lamps illuminated old-style wooden buildings, with an icicle-encrusted stream running through their midst. If you have watched the much-loved Hayao Miyazaki’s animation “Spirited Away”, you might recognize the distinctively styled bath-house in which most of the events take place, nestled towards the back of the row of ryokans.
This is Ginzan Onsen, a magical enclave of traditional ryokan and bathhouses, preserved in pristine condition in the middle of the mountains of Yamagata. By day and night, tourists flock to this little town just to take in the nostalgia and get those perfect instagrammable shots. Owing to limited accommodation available, it is highly advisable to book your ryokan early, if you want to stay the night.
So if you ever find yourself in Yamagata, do spirit yourself away by taking a day trip to Ginzan Onsen.
Find out more about Ginzan Onsen here.