Obanazawa's main claim to fame is that it has one of the highest snowfalls in the entire world, with over two meters falling in an average winter, and they've even developed a special sharply peaked "flower hat" (hanagasa) to stop snow accumulating on your head. Haiku poet Matsuo Basho spent ten days here on his journey along the Narrow Road to the Deep North.
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Located about 45 minutes drive from the Shinkansen stop at Oishida in Northern Yamagata, Ginzan is a very small picture postcard perfect Japanese village along a river with hot spring baths in most small hotels. The attraction of the town is its physical beauty - a village wedged between hills with a small river gushing through it and a number of quaint bridges strategically placed across the stream every 20 metres or so to connect houses on either side of the river. Famed in Japan because it was used as a movie set for a period drama decades ago, Ginzan is a place to visit for a short period in winter when it is spectacularly covered in the metres of snow for which this area of Japan is famed or in summer for hiking in the surrounding hills.
If you visit in winter, you may be lucky enough to attend the New year festivities in mid January - when the small town comes out to celebrate the end of the old year and the incoming new year. Men and boys dress in sumo type apparell and barefeet in the freezing cold around a big bonfire - where last year's decorations are tossed in, and the town and visitors drink sake together.
Ginzan is a charming small town clinging to its history but with younger people resettling there. The primary school had 8 students last year (with 7 teachers!!!). In winter, there is little to sustain a visit longer than 1-2 nights but it is highly worthwhile to see how the hardy friendly and straight forward rural Japanese live.
Speaking Japanese will assist greatly - though there are groups of Taiwanese who visit and who speak no Japanese.
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