It’s time for ‘Japan by Prefecture‘ again! This is the series that aims to provide the highlights of each prefecture of Japan, along with my personal favourites and suggestions from readers. This week, we’re looking at Yamaguchi (山口県).
Yamaguchi Prefecture is part of the Chugoku Region (中国地方) and it is the westernmost prefecture on Honshu. The capital is Yamaguchi (山口市). Thanks to Zooming Japan, Japan Australia, Rosco and Paul for contributing to this week’s post with lots of great ideas! I’ve not been to Yamaguchi myself, but a number of my colleagues lived in this area so I have heard lots of good things about this prefecture.
During the Edo Period (1603 – 1867), Yamaguchi Prefecture was known as the Choshu Domain (長州藩) and the capital city was Hagi (萩). The Choshu clan played a leading role in overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate and bringing Japan’s feudal era to an end with the Meiji Restoration (明治維新). The prefecture is also famous for the Choshu Five (長州五傑), five men who, with help from Thomas Glover, left Japan to study in England at University College London in 1863, when it was still illegal to leave Japan. After returning to Japan, they all contributed in various ways to the modernisation of their country. The ‘Choshu Five’ included Hirobumi Ito, who became Japan’s first Prime Minister and is otherwise known as ‘the Father of the Japanese Constitution’ and ‘the Father of parliamentary government in Japan’. The other men were Kaoru Inoue, who became Japan’s first Foreign Minister and has been called ‘the Father of modern Japanese diplomacy’, Yozo Yamao (‘the Father of Japanese engineering’), Masaru Inoue (‘the Father of Japanese railways’) and Kinsuke Endo (‘the Father of the modern Japanese mint’). (Source)
Yamaguchi Prefecture is historically quite important, and for anyone interested in seeing a really well preserved castle town, Hagi (萩) is the place to go. The beautiful old castle town features old samurai and merchant residences which are open to the public, and Hagi is also famous for its pottery – Hagiyaki – which ranks amongst the best in Japan. Unfortunately Hagi Castle itself is just ruins now, but some of the downtown areas are very well preserved.
Yamaguchi City itself is worth visiting if you’re in the area. Whilst not jam-packed with sightseeing spots, there are a few temples and shrines of note. Rurikoji (瑠璃光寺) is a temple featuring a five-storied pagoda built in 1442 that is ranked among Japan’s three greatest, alongside those of Horyuji Temple near Nara and Daigoji Temple in Kyoto. As well as traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Yamaguchi is also home to the St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church (サビエル記念聖堂), a Christian church built to commemorate the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, who was active in spreading Christianity in Asia in the 1500s.
Iwakuni (岩国) in southeastern Yamaguchi Prefecture is a small city best known as the home of Kintai-kyo (錦帯橋), an arched bridge made entirely of wood without the use of any nails. This is one of Japan’s ‘Three Famous Bridges‘ – doesn’t Japan just love to make these lists of three famous/best things?
This is such a beautiful structure, and I’d love to see it in real life one day. It reminds me of old woodblock prints.
The bridge was originally completed in 1673, and of course it has undergone renovations since then but it has always kept true to its original style. In 1950 the bridge was struck by a violent typhoon and collapsed, but it was reconstructed by 1953.
Iwakuni is also home to Iwakuni Castle (岩国城), which was built in 1608 on top of Mount Shiroyama and surrounded by the Nishiki River. The present Iwakuni Castle is a reconstruction, built in 1962.
Mine City (美祢市) in Yamaguchi Prefecture is home to East Asia’s largest limestone cave in an area which is a designated quasi national park. The cave is called Akiyoshido (秋芳洞) and it is located close to the Akiyoshidai (秋吉台) plateau. The cave is about nine kilometres long, and about one kilometre of that is open to the public.
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Experts say the Akiyoshidai plateau was actually a coral reef some 300 million years ago and that what we see today is a result of the gradual dissolution of limestone by rain. It certainly is an unusual landscape and not like anything you would see elsewhere in Japan!
Finally, I couldn’t write about Yamaguchi Prefecture and not mention Shimonoseki (下関市), located at the southwestern tip of Honshu. Shimonoseki is often called the ‘Fugu Capital’ as it is well-known for the locally caught pufferfish (fugu) and is the largest harvester of fugu in Japan. Fugu is famously a dangerous fish to eat due to it being poisonous, but if it is prepared correctly it can be eaten (you wouldn’t catch me trying it though!). If you are interested in fugu, the best place to visit is the Shimonoseki Karato fish market, which is home to all things fugu, including lanterns made from the fish themselves!
The Omiyage Section
Yamaguchi Prefecture doesn’t have that many well-known souvenirs (or ‘omiyage’ / おみやげ). As I mentioned above, pufferfish, or ‘fugu’, are popular in Yamaguchi, so various fugu-related items are of course available. Other than that, I found it hard to come up with much today!
Next week I will be moving over to Shikoku and writing about Tokushima (徳島県). Have you been there? What’s good to eat there and what omiyage should I buy? What are the best sightseeing spots or hidden gems? Please do share your thoughts below, and join me next week for Japan by Prefecture!