[From February Issue 2013]
Located in the westernmost part of Honshu (mainland Japan), Yamaguchi Prefecture has prospered as a gateway between Honshu and Kyushu. Having long traded with other Asian countries such as China and Korea, these days the prefecture is still an important place for international trade. Bounded by the Sea of Japan to the north and the Seto Inland Sea to the south, the Chugoku Mountains run across its center. Even within the prefecture, there is a difference in temperature between the north and the south, but in general the climate is relatively warm and there are few natural disasters, making it popular not only as a tourist destination but also as a pleasant place to live.
Yamaguchi Prefecture has produced brilliant politicians and cultural figures who have contributed to the development of modern Japan. In particular, figures who played a pivotal role in the Meiji Restoration (late 19th century), grew up there. These men were instrumental in overthrowing the Edo Shogunate, which wielded absolute power at that time.
The first stop on your itinerary should be to Akiyoshidai, the largest karst plateau in Japan, located in Mine City in the central part of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Formed under water 350 million years ago when the area was a coral reef, these limestone remains have been eroded by the rain to create unique, strangely shaped rock formations. Stretching beneath Akiyoshidai, is Akiyoshido, the largest limestone cave in the Orient. In addition to the regular tourist route, there is an adventure route available.
Hagi City in the northern part of Yamaguchi Prefecture is a castle town. Samurai residences and merchant dwellings built about 400 years ago look the same as they did in the old days. With its beautifully laid out streets of white-walled houses, the town is called “little Kyoto” and is bustling with tourists all year long. At its heart is Kikuya Juutaku (Kikuya Family Residence), where valuable artworks are exhibited and visitors can sense the changes in the seasons in its spectacular garden.
Art lovers should check out hagiyaki pottery, a craft that has a 400 year old tradition in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Hagiyaki tea bowls have long been highly prized for use in tea ceremonies. There are numerous hagiyaki studios in Hagi City, some of which offer tourists the opportunity to make their own hagiyaki. Even if you are new to the craft, a veteran instructor will attentively teach you.
If you come to Yamaguchi Prefecture, you absolutely must try its blowfish, a local specialty. You can enjoy blowfish in a variety of ways: savor its natural taste with thin slices of sashimi (raw fish); in nabe (a broth); or as hire-zake (simmered roasted fins in hot sake).
Tsunoshima, an isolated island in the Sea of Japan, located to the north of Shimonoseki City, has been getting a lot of attention in recent years as a tourist spot. With its cobalt blue sea and silken white sand beaches, you can soak up the atmosphere of this southern land at this popular resort. The bridge to Tsunoshima is only 18 meters high, low enough to allow those making the crossing to take in the view. Tsunoshima has been used as a location in movies and for a car commercial on TV. In summer, the island is packed with tourists who come to bathe in the sea.
One of Yamaguchi’s famous tourist spots is Ganryu-jima, an island in the Kanmon Straits, which separates Kyushu and Honshu. Legend has it that Japan’s greatest swordsman MIYAMOTO Musashi won a duel against his rival SASAKI Kojiro at Ganryu-jima. The island is accessible from Karato-sanbashi pier by ferry. On the island’s square, statues of Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro stand against the scenic backdrop of the Kanmon Straits. During 2012, various events were held on Ganryu-jima to mark the 400th anniversary of the duel. Other martial art events will also be held in 2013 to commemorate the duel.
Spanning the Nishiki River in Iwakuni City in the eastern part of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Kintaikyo (the Kintai Bridge) is a modern Japanese structure with an old world feel. With its series of five arches, the structure of this arched bridge is one that is not common in any country. The lord of the Iwakuni domain ordered his vassal KODAMA Kuroemon to construct the bridge and the structure was completed under his direction in 1673. Using construction techniques from those days, the present bridge was reconstructed in 2001 and took three years to complete. Both sturdy and beautiful, Kintaikyo was indispensable to the political world of the Iwakuni domain.
The steam locomotive that runs between JR Shin-Yamaguchi Station in Yamaguchi City and JR Tsuwano Station in Shimane Prefecture has captured the interest of not only railway enthusiasts, but also international travelers. Having been decommissioned, the train disappeared during the drive towards modernization in the 1960s and 1970s, but at the request of many steam locomotive fans, it was put back into service in 1979 and named SL Yamaguchi-go. Yamaguchi-go travels a distance of 62.9 kilometers in about two hours. The retro interior and the throbbing of the steam engine will make you feel as if you have stepped back in time. The steam locomotive runs from late March to mid-November every year.
A hot spring will revive you after your tiring journey. There are over 50 hot springs in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Yuda Hot Spring in Yamaguchi City is the most easily accessible. A mixture of a bustling shopping district and a hot spring resort, Yuda Hot Spring is said to have been frequented by literary figures. The hot spring waters are effective in relieving neuralgia, muscle pain and fatigue.
It takes about one and a half hours to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Yamaguchi-Ube Airport or Iwakuni Kintaikyo Airport in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Buses and taxis are available at the airport to take you to any tourist spot. To get to Yamaguchi City, you can take the bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Yamaguchi Station, a journey which takes roughly four hours and 20 minutes. To get to Shimonoseki City, it takes approximately five hours by bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Shimonoseki Station in the city center. If you use an expressway bus departing from nearby Tokyo Station, it takes about 15 hours and 20 minutes.
Text: OMORI Saori