Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県), the westernmost prefecture on Honshu Island, can be considered a sleepy sort of place. This area is rural compared to the rest of the Chugoku region, but still has great cultural history. The Ouchi clan, which gained power during the rise of the samurai class, imitated Kyoto’s city planning, turning Yamaguchi into a historical site laid out in a similar pattern to Kyoto’s impressive spread of shrines and temples.
Kintai Bridge & Iwakuni Castle
The impressive size of the Kintai Bridge spans the Nishiki river, linking the riversides. The spectacular scenery during all seasons also makes it popular with tourists. Iwakuni Castle, located atop a mountain behind the bridge, can be reached by foot or cable car. There is also a museum inside the castle showcasing historical artifacts, making it a must-visit for historical buffs!
Akiyoshidai & Akiyoshido Limestone Cave
Akiyoshidai is a trekker’s heaven with its unique view of white and gray limestone scattered across a wide field of vivid green. Designated as special national treasure, this place was once a coral reef in ancient times. A traditional field burning is held during February, which turns the field black.
There is also a huge naturally-formed limestone cave nearby, which will thrill and awe visitors with the Ao Tenjo (天井, blue ceiling) and the Hyakumaizara (100 plates) which is a rock formation. Visitors are advised to wear warm clothes as the temperature inside is always at a cool 17 degrees Celsius.
Hagi Castle Town
Hagi is a castle town which boasts that you can still use Edo period maps to get around. However, this place has since advanced despite the scenic appearance of the preserved white walls, merchant quarters, and former samurai mansions. Do visit the museums and temples in this area to get a glimpse of its rich history and origin.
Fugu (Blowfish) Cuisine in Shimonoseki
Shimonoseki is the main site for fugu or blowfish dishes. The word fugu sounds like fuku which means good fortune, which made the fish a popular ingredient. Be careful when eating this dish as it is dangerous if not prepared correctly; a number of people are poisoned each year from eating badly prepared fugu. Despite the danger, many tourists still hanker after blowfish dishes such as sashimi, hotpot, and even in tempura-style.
Ouchi Lacquer Ware
Valued for the durability and unfading vermilion lacquer, the Ouchi lacquer ware was widely exported to China and Korea as trade. The diamond shaped Ouchi family crest is often part of the design which is affixed with golf leaves. You can get lacquered tableware, vases, and Ouchi dolls, and even try your hand at painting a pair of chopsticks at the Yamaguchi Furusato Heritage Center.
Motonosumi Inari Shrine in Nagato City
This scenic seaside shrine boasts an impressive stretch of scarlet torii gates against the blue Japan sea. One of the hidden gems in Nagato City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, it is said that this shrine houses the sacred spirits from the Taikodani Inari Shrine in Shimane Prefecture. Also, you may even catch a glimpse of the heavenly beauty Ryugu no Shiofuki (竜宮の潮吹, dragon palace’s geyser), which happens when ocean waves break against the cliff, forcing sea water to erupt.
Karato Fish Market in Shimonoseki
A busy wholesale fish market in the wee hours of morning while a retail market by noon. Seasonal fresh and delicious seafood is sold; the cafeteria on the second level is often crowded with tourists munching on cheap seafood bowls or sushi. Beware of crowds on Fridays and weekends as more people will attend the weekly Ikiiki Bakangai food event.
Kawara Soba (Roof tile soba)
A Yamaguchi Prefecture delicacy which uses a kawara (瓦, roof tile) as a plate to serve its green tea soba cuisine. These black tiles are heated, similar to a hot plate, and the soba is placed directly on them, resulting in a slightly crispy noodle texture. This flavourful soba is served with beef, egg, seaweed, grated daikon (大根, radish), lemon, and a warm dipping sauce.
Shimonoseki Kaikyokan (Shimonoseki City Aquarium)
If you guessed that this aquarium has a collection of blowfish, you’re right! Their huge blowfish collection is one of the unique highlights of this aquarium, reflecting Shimonoseki’s large blowfish industry. There is also a tank that replicates the characteristic whirlpools from the Kanmon Straits. Other special exhibits include a Penguin Village, a protected breeding area for Humboldt penguins in cooperation with the Santiago Metropolitan Park in Chile.
Mt. Kasa or Kasayama (笠山) is a small active volcano (though lack of it) which has been developed into a tourist spot. An observation platform near the crater allows you to view inside the crater, which is a micro habitat for lush ferns and bugs. You can even descend into the crater and see the hardened lava! If you manage to climb to the top, a panoramic view of the islands surrounding Hagi is waiting. There is also a foothill shrine, a camellia forest, and shops which sell local produce in this quaint scenic spot.
*Header image by John Cabbla