Ginzan Onsen: Japan's most charming winter village?
"This place is beautiful," says retired Japanese football star Hidetoshi Nakata. "This is like a hidden beauty of Japan." The 41-year-old is talking about the town of Ginzan Onsen, a popular winter destination in Japan's Yamagata Prefecture.
For Nakata, the importance of the region goes beyond beauty. He's brought us here to get a taste of his passion for sake, a craft he's been pursuing for nearly a decade since his retirement from professional football in 2006. (See below video.)
"All over Japan, there are many sake-makers from North Hokkaido to South Okinawa. But especially here [in] Yamagata... it is known for sake-making."
"Silver Mountain Hot Spring"
According to sake experts, colder temperatures influence production and taste.
There's no shortage of chilly weather in quaint and captivating Ginzan Onsen, part of Japan's northern Tohoku region, in winter.
Nestled in the mountainside, it's like walking into a Hayao Miyazaki film. We're surrounded by rolling powdery mountains and snow-covered trees, a landscape of white and green.
Ginzan Onsen literally translates to "Silver Mountain Hot Spring," named after the Nobezawa Ginzan Silver Mine, which operated here during the Edo period around five centuries ago.
Ginzan Onsen sits on natural hot springs that breathe steaming water into the various ryokans, or traditional Japanese inns.
These historic buildings line both sides of the street and overlook the pristine and calming Ginzan River, which flows through the center of the village.
An impressive 22-meter-high waterfall, scenic wooden bridges and an outdoor hot spring foot bath add an extra air of beauty to the town's postcard image.
Nowadays, the village is mostly populated by tourists who have made the journey to soak in its surrounding nature and the picture-perfect townscape.
The small town is dotted with visitors looking for a warm meal, a steaming onsen (or hot spring) and that perfect snap.
Photographers from all over the world come to Ginzan Onsen to capture its beauty -- during the day, a brilliant winter wonderland and at night, a moody romantic escape, as the lights from the buildings dance in the reflection of the river.
See it for yourself in the video at the top of this feature.