Hagi (2½ hours from Hiroshima) is a Japanese feudal town with about 46,000 people on the southwest corner of Honshu. Sometimes described as the Japanese equivalent of colonial Williamsburg, it has many historical building and a reconstructed samurai quarter. Hagi played a major role on the modernization of Japan and the demise of the samurai but itself was skipped over by modernization and has changed so little over the past two centuries that maps from the Edo period can still be used.
Hagi Castle was built in the early 1600s by the Mori clan, who were a powerful family in the Edo Period and had a large number of samurai under them. Hagi is associated with many figures in the Meiji Restoration. It is the birthplace of Yoshida Shoin, the man who set in motion the rebellion that led to the Meiji Restoration and the opening of Japan after 300 years of isolation. Shion was executed before his vision could be realized but his followers — including Ito Hirobumi — took over Hagi and used it as base for military operations that brought down Japan's last shogun. Later local samurai rebelled against the Meiji government and were defeated and took up growing grapefruit-like oranges to survive.
The main train station is located outside the center of the town, which has helped the old town retain its charm. Many visitors explore the town and its environs by bicycle. The city has changed so little in part because it is surrounded by high mountains and is difficult to get to.
Websites: JNTO article JNTO Japan Guide Japan-Guide Wikitravel Wikitravel Map: wikivoyage wikivoyage.org Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Hagi is accessible by air and by bus and by train from Hiroshima, Matsue, Shimonoseki, Tokyo and Osaka and other Japanese cities. It is not on the main shinkansen routes. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Sights in Hagi: The samurai quarter of Jokaamchi is the most scenic part of the town. More old building can be found in Horiuchi. In Termachi there are some interesting temples. Among the narrow ziz-zaging streets these quarters are a folk museum, art museum, kilns that produce distinctive white-and-amber Hagi-yaki ceramics and a number of merchant houses and samurai houses that are open to the public. Particularly attractive are the old wooden, thatched-roof houses set behind whitewashed walls with majestic gates..
The Toko-ji Temple contains the tombs of odd-numbered lords. The Daisho-in Temple contains the tombs of even numbered ones. These temples feature hundreds of stone monuments and pathways lined by 6-foot-high granite lanterns, and a terrace with 15-foot-high stone daimyo memorial where the bodies were cremated.
Hagi's castle, which was backed by a mountain and sided on three sided by two rivers and the sea, was dismantled in 1874. High level samurai used to live in the area inside the moat and low-ranked samurai and commoners lived in the area outside the moat. The castle area is now a park with a shrine, teahouse and hill with pleasant view of the town. The hut-like school where the followers of Yoshida Shoin studied is a major attraction.
UNESCO World Heritage Site Industrial Sites in Hagi
Hagi proto-industrial sites — the Hagi reverberatory furnace, Ebisugahana shipyard, Heisin Maru, Ōitayama-tatara iron smelting works, Hagi castle town, Hagi old town and Shōkasonjuku Academy run by Yoshida Shōin — are part of “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining” which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2015. According to UNESCO: “The site encompasses a series of twenty three component parts, mainly located in the southwest of Japan. It bears testimony to the rapid industrialization of the country from the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century, through the development of the iron and steel industry, shipbuilding and coal mining. The site illustrates the process by which feudal Japan sought technology transfer from Europe and America from the middle of the 19th century and how this technology was adapted to the country’s needs and social traditions. The site testifies to what is considered to be the first successful transfer of Western industrialization to a non-Western nation. [Source: UNESCO]
“A series of industrial heritage sites, focused mainly on the Kyushu-Yamaguchi region of south-west of Japan, represent the first successful transfer of industrialization from the West to a non-Western nation. The rapid industrialization that Japan achieved from the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century was founded on iron and steel, shipbuilding and coal mining, particularly to meet defence needs. The sites in the series reflect the three phases of this rapid industrialisation achieved over a short space of just over fifty years between 1850s and 1910.
“The first phase in the pre-Meiji Bakumatsu isolation period, at the end of Shogun era in the 1850s and early 1860s, was a period of experimentation in iron making and shipbuilding. Prompted by the need to improve the defences of the nation and particularly its sea-going defences in response to foreign threats, industrialisation was developed by local clans through second hand knowledge, based mostly on Western textbooks, and copying Western examples, combined with traditional craft skills. Ultimately most were unsuccessful. Nevertheless this approach marked a substantial move from the isolationism of the Edo period, and in part prompted the Meiji Restoration.
“The second phase from the 1860s accelerated by the new Meiji Era, involved the importation of Western technology and the expertise to operate it; while the third and final phase in the late Meiji period (between 1890 to 1910), was full-blown local industrialization achieved with newly-acquired Japanese expertise and through the active adaptation of Western technology to best suit Japanese needs and social traditions, on Japan’s own terms. Western technology was adapted to local needs and local materials and organised by local engineers and supervisors.
The 23 components are in 11 sites within 8 discrete areas. Six of the eight areas are in the south-west of the country, with one in the central part and one in the northern part of the central island. Collectively the sites are an outstanding reflection of the way Japan moved from a clan based society to a major industrial society with innovative approaches to adapting western technology in response to local needs and profoundly influenced the wider development of East Asia. After 1910, many sites later became fully fledged industrial complexes, some of which are still in operation or are part of operational sites.
“The Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution illustrate the process by which feudal Japan sought technology transfer from Western Europe and America from the middle of the 19th century and how this technology was adopted and progressively adapted to satisfy specific domestic needs and social traditions, thus enabling Japan to become a world-ranking industrial nation by the early 20th century. The sites collectively represents an exceptional interchange of industrial ideas, know-how and equipment, that resulted, within a short space of time, in an unprecedented emergence of autonomous industrial development in the field of heavy industry which had profound impact on East Asia.
“The technological ensemble of key industrial sites of iron and steel, shipbuilding and coal mining is testimony to Japan’s unique achievement in world history as the first non-Western country to successfully industrialize. Viewed as an Asian cultural response to Western industrial values, the ensemble is an outstanding technological ensemble of industrial sites that reflected the rapid and distinctive industrialisation of Japan based on local innovation and adaptation of Western technology.”
Akiyoshidai-Quasi National Park (between Hagi and Yamaguchi) is centered around the Akiyoshi Plateau, Japan's largest tableland. The Karst scenery in the park includes unusual limestone pillar-like rock formations, hollows shaped like pots and many limestone grottos, of which Akiyoshi Cave is the most interesting.
The plateau covers 130 square kilometers and contains more than 450 caves. The limestone comes form coral reefs created around 350 million years ago and uplifted beginning around 12 millions years ago. Akiyoshi Cave is one of the largest cavern in Asia. Created over a 30,000 year period, it is 100 meters deep and about 10 kilometers miles long and follows a river. Visitor enter through a 24-meter-high, eight-meter-wide opening, explore a 30-meter-high, 50-meter-wide space, walk for about a kilometer in the cave, explore a 50-meter-wide room, and take an elevator to surface.
The temperature inside opening of the cave is 17̊ C in both the winter and the summer with temperatures getting warner as one does deeper onto the cave. Among the 26 designated points of interest are Donai Fuji, a huge column created from stalactite and stalagmites that are joined together and resemble Mt. Fuji, and the Golden Column, which is 15 meters high and four meters around. Wildlife including 15,000 bats from six different species and several cave-dwelling creatures with weak eyes. Websites: Gaijin Pot gaijinpot.com ; Ayikoshidai Park akiyoshidai-park.
Tsuwano (40 kilometers east of Hagi) is a pleasant mountain town with a ruined castle and carp-filled ponds. The town can be reached by a steam locomotive and is regarded as a wonderful place to explore by bicycle. Websites: JNTO article JNTO ; Shimane Tourism article JNTO ; Wikitravel Wikitravel
Chomonkyo Gorge consists of steeps cliffs, fantastically-shaped rocks, cascades and deep pools. The scenery is exceptionally spectacular in the fall.
Yamaguchi (1½ hours by train from Hiroshima) used to be considered the "Kyoto of Western Japan — because an early lord modeled the streets and buildings after their counterparts Kyoto. A town of 130,000, rarely visited by foreign tourists, it was the home of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier for two months. Sights include the Xavier Memorial Chapel, an art gallery, museums, temples and shrines.
The five-story pagoda at Rurikijo temple is a beautiful sight, especially when lit up at night. Sesshu garden at Joeiji Temple features a traditional Zen-style rock garden, During the Yamaguchi Tanabata lantern festival hundreds of lanterns are strung up in the shopping district. In July, the city host its version of the Kyoto’s Gion Festival. featured a dance performed in a winged costume that originated in Kyoto but is no longer performed there.
Yamaguchi Prefecture covers 6,112 square kilometers (2,364 square miles), is home to about 1.4 million people and has a population density of 230 people per square kilometer. Yamaguchi is the capital and largest city, with about 200,000 people. It is in the Chugoku area on the southwestern part of Honshu island and has four districts and 19 municipalities.
Yashirojima Island (Suo-Oshima Island) Marine Park Zone (Suo-Oshima Town, Yamaguchi Prefecture) contains Japan's largest colonies of Alveopora japonica coral and favorable seagrass beds are located here. It is designated a marine park zone for protection. [Source: Ministry of the Environment Government of Japan]
Websites: Yamaguchi City tourism site yamaguchi-city.jp;; Yamaguchi Prefecture site Yamaguchi Prefecture Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
a Yamaguchi specialty Sanyo-Onoda (20 kilometers northeast of Shimonoseki) is charming town with about 60,000 people. Ot has the longest name among the cities whose names are all written in kanji. Ichihara Shoji wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Of course, the city's fascination goes beyond its long name. Kuguri Iwa, a huge, strange-shaped rock, has an overwhelming presence at Cape Motoyama, which looks like it's sticking out into the Sea of Suo. The rock has three narrow, vertical openings. I assume its name, which means to go through rock, comes from the fact a person can pass through all three gaps. [Source: Ichihara, Shoji, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 18, 2015]
“The surrounding area of the Yakeno Kaigan coast near the cape has been chosen as "one of the 100 most beautiful sunset spots in Japan." The orange tinge from the sunset looked beautiful to me from the rocks. About a 10-minute drive north from the cape brings people to the summit of Mt. Ryuo. Conquering the mountain is not difficult as it is only 136 meters above sea level, which makes it well suited for hiking. I heard visitors here can see 10,000 cherry trees in full bloom in spring, numerous himebotaru fireflies dancing around in early summer and the arriving asagimadara (a migrant butterfly known as the chestnut tiger) in autumn. Although the mountain isn't very tall, it's one of the best spots to see various wildflowers and upland plants throughout the year.
“From the observatory on the summit, we can clearly see the six provinces" in the region, which are Nagato, Suo, Chikuzen, Buzen, Bungo and Iyo, in their old names. I would recommend climbing the mountain after sunset to see neighboring Ube and its cold-looking illuminations of a group of factories, Kanmon Bridge and other facilities, which are quite impressive. The view at night is also registered as one of the 100 most beautiful nightscapes in Japan and one of the heritage nightscapes in Japan. In addition to the abundance of nature, there are many other attractive spots worth visiting. One of them, Tokkurigama (literally, sake bottle kiln), is an important cultural property designated by the central government. It is also a legacy of Jumpachi Kasai, who founded the former Onoda Cement Manufacturing Co., which was the first private cement company in the nation.”
Yamaguchi Factory Tours
Shunan City (70 kilometers west-southwest of Hiroshima) offers factory tours. According to unmissablejapan: “Bocho Bus run a Dramatic Factory Night View coach tour of the industrial area of Shunan City in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Tours run occasionally on Saturdays (leaving at 6:45pm), take an hour and a half, and cost ¥3,800. You can find the departure times of future tours here. To make a booking, or for more information, call 0834-31-1231. (You should book at least ten days in advance.) On the day of your tour, meet by the shinkansen entrance of Tokuyama Station, which is on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line. (From Shin-Osaka Station, it takes an hour and three-quarters by shinkansen, and costs ¥12,050.) Some of the places where you get off the bus are dark, so it’s recommended that you take a torch, and you should wear shoes that are suitable for climbing stairs. [Source: unmissablejapan]
fugu, a Shimonoseki specialty “There’s also a boat cruise that lets you see Shunan’s industrial zone from Tokuyama Bay. The tours, called ‘Hunting Cruises’, run from Seahorse Marina in a boat that carries up to twelve people, and last for an hour and a half. The cost is ¥4,000, and the departure time varies by season. For bookings or enquiries call 0834-26-0444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The marina is 7km from Tokuyama Station. A map on the tour’s web page shows its location. A staircase on the outside of a chemical plant
“Not wanting to be left out, Shunan’s Hotel Sunroute Tokuyama has a Factory Night View Premium Lodging Plan, which claims to be the first of its kind in the whole of Japan. You get to stay in a room that has been carefully selected for its ‘gorgeous’ factory views. You even get a complimentary explanatory guide, and a special night view gift to take home with you. A suite (sleeps two) is ¥21,000, but because the hotel only has one of these with the special industrial view, your stay there is limited to one night only. Alternatively you can stay in a large twin room for ¥12,000. The twin room can be booked online, but to book the suite you need to call the hotel directly on 0834-32-2611. The hotel is just two minutes walk from the shinkansen exit of Tokuyama Station.”
Shimonoseki (at the southern tip of Honshu) is a port in southern Honshu with 250,000 people, and is a major crossroads and transportation hub with ferries to Korea or a suspension bridge across the Kanmon Straits to Kyushu. Sights include the bright orange Akama-jinju Shrine, 268-meter-high Mt. Hino-yam (with fine views of Kanmon Straits), an aquarium with a dolphin and sea lion show and whale house with a pro-whaling exhibition.
Shimonoseki’s Karato fish market is interesting. Thanks to its location between the Inland Sea and the Japan Sea, it has sold over 1,000 different species of fish as well as several species of whale. Many people say Shimonoseki has Japan’s freshest fish. The markets is new and spacious for a fish market. People relax on the roof which is covered with grass.
Shimonoseki is particularly famous for fugu, the expensive puffer fish whose poisonous organs have to be removed by a special procedure to keep the people who eat it from dying. About 500 fugu chef's live here. There is a bronze monument of a fugu in front of the fish market. There are even fugu pictured on the city's manhole covers. Every February people pray a good puffer catch before a special shrine and fishermen send the Emperor a fugu as a gift. A local tourist brochure reads: "In the past, eating fugu was an adventure risking one's life."
Shimonoseki has been the home of major whaling operation since 1899 when Japan adopted the “Norway method” of hunting whales with steam-fired harpoons. The city once was home to a shipbuilding industry that produced steel-hulled whale ships and a fleet of 40 whaling ships that ventured as far away as the Antarctic Ocean and returned with frozen carcasses. Now only two ships remain. The Whale Museum in Shimonoseki is closed. It is a large concrete blue whale. When it was open visitors entered through the tail, walked past exhibits and exited out the mouth.
another Shimonoseki specialty To give the local whaling industry a boost junior high school students are given tours of the last remaining whaling ships and a whale cooking festival, with tips on making whale burgers and whale capriccio, is held. Slabs of bright red whale are still seen in stores and markets. Whale restaurants offer fried whale tail, grilled whale tongue wafers, boiled blubber and whale sashimi.
Shimonoseki is getting more and more visitors from South Korea and China. The city is encouraging shops to accept South Korean money in a bid to attract Korean tourists on the ferry from Pusan.
Websites: Shimonoseki Sightseeing Guide Shimonoseki City site Wikitravel Wikitravel Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Shimonoseki is accessible by ferry from Korea and China and accessible by air, bus and train from Tokyo (six hours) and Osaka (four hours) and other Japanese cities. The Shimonoseki shinkansen station is two stations from downtown Shimonoseki. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Image Sources: 1) 11) Ray Kinnane 2) 5), 6), 7) Hiroshima Convention and Visitor's Bureau 3) 4) 8), 9) Gensuikan 10 Aomolife 13) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education, 14) Wikitravel, 15), 16), 17) Shimonoseki city site
Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2020