Photo of Kintaikyo bridge, the main landmark of Iwanuki, Yamaguchi
Kintaikyo bridge, the main landmark of Iwanuki, Yamaguchi

Yamaguchi: The Root of Modern Japan

Found at the southwestern tip of Honshu, Yamaguchi is a largely non-urban prefecture with a relatively small population, that nevertheless has left an enormous mark on the history and politics of Japan. Many of the most influential names in the Meiji Restoration, which ended the rule of the Shogun and kicked off Japan’s explosive modernization, were born and educated in Yamaguchi.

Found at the southwestern tip of Honshu, Yamaguchi is a largely non-urban prefecture with a relatively small population, that nevertheless has left an enormous mark on the history and politics of Japan. Many of the most influential names in the Meiji Restoration, which ended the rule of the Shogun and kicked off Japan’s explosive modernization, were born and educated in Yamaguchi. In addition, not only was the first Prime Minister of Japan’s fledgeling democracy born in Yamaguchi, but the prefecture has produced more Prime Ministers than any other, including the current PM Shinzo Abe.
Apart from the history and political side, though, Yamaguchi is overflowing with unusual, exciting things to see and do.Come west and see the best of Japan!

Popular Highlights

A few places in Yamaguchi always make the guide-books, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention them.

Hagi, an old castle town on the Sea of Japan side, was the center of the political and educational roots of the Meiji Restoration. The city has preserved and restored all manner of historical landmarks including traditional schoolhouses, temples, and the white-walled old castle town.

Akiyoshidai is a plateau in the center of the prefecture dotted with jutting outcroppings of pale limestone. The unusual formations look like sheep dotting the rolling green meadows, giving them the nickname “sheep rocks.” The scenery is lovely, and the visitor’s center has some really great soft-serve ice cream! The nearby city of Aikiyoshi also has the famous cave, Akiyoshido, the longest limestone cave in Japan.

Iwakuni city’s main draw is the beautiful Kintaikyo bridge, a wooden five-arched bridge constructed in an intricate traditional style. Above the bridge on a mountain looking down over the city is the rebuilt Iwakuni castle, which now holds a very nice historical museum. The wide park between the bridge and the castle is also full of places to eat, shop, and explore.

Hidden Gems

As always, I’m much more interested in places that don’t usually make the guide-books, and offer a bit more intimate look at Japan.
Please note: Almost all of these will be best reached by car, since Yamaguchi’s public transport is mostly focused along the San-yo coast.

Kagekiyodo

This cave is not far from Akiyoshi’s much more famous Akiyoshido, but I prefer it much more. Apart from the much smaller crowds it attracts, this cave offers what they call an”adventure course.” The first half is well-lit and has a smooth walkway (meaning it is wheelchair accessible) but the last half is totally unlit and has no walkway. You can rent lights and helmets at the entrance and enjoy some authentic spelunking! It’s also a great way to stay cool in summer.

For more please check the following website: https://en.karusuto.com/spot/kagekiyodo/

Omijima, Nagato

This island in the Sea of Japan is part of a national park, and features an incredible coastline against clean blue-green sea. The harsh weather of the Sea of Japan has carved the rocks of Omijima into arches, statue-like figures, and more and you can take a cruise from Nagato city around (and through!) these formations. The boat rides offer a variety of cruises that focus on different parts of the rock formations.

Check the boat rides on Nagato’s official website: https://visit-nagato.com/en/activities/boatride/

Chomonkyo Gorge

This river valley near Nagato is a beautiful hiking spot. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and despite the gorgeous scenery never seems to get crowded. The trail is fairly easy to walk, but be warned: The river can rise rapidly in heavy rain, so make sure you check the weather when visiting. I particularly recommend going in spring, when the trees are fresh and in bloom.

To give you an idea: https://www.into-you.jp/en/places/1137/

Yanai City & Goldfish Lantern Festival.

The small port town of Yanai has preserved many of its old buildings in the so-called “white-walled town”, where you can stroll through cobblestone streets lined with traditional earthen-walled buildings. There are lovely little cafes and shops there to let you enjoy the local atmosphere at your leisure, but in August the Yanai Goldfish Lantern festival around Obon is the real highlight. Based on Tohoku’s Neputa festival, the locals build intricate floats based on the local goldfish-shaped lanterns, and the streets come alive with lights and street stalls.It can get quite crowded, as it’s a huge local draw, but it is not at all as packed as the bigger festivals in Yamaguchi city or Hiroshima.

Photo of Yanai Goldfish Festival
Visit the less famous but very beautiful Yanai Goldfish Festival

Find more info about the Gold fish festival on Japan Visitor:
https://www.japanvisitor.com/japanese-festivals/yanai-goldfish-festival

There is much more to see and do in Yamaguchi, like trying Mikan Orange Hotpot on Suo-Oshima island, or swimming the beautiful beaches of Nijigahama and Murozumi in Hikari. If you’ve got the time and a car, Yamaguchi has a lot to offer!

Jim Rion

PREVIOUS ARTICLE NEXT ARTICLE