Yamaguchi Prefecture – History and crafts

Yamaguchi is the southernmost prefecture of Japan’s main island of Honshu and is known for its high-quality pottery and rich history.

Today’s prefecture is located in the territory of the former provinces of Nagato and Suo. It was introduced as part of the Meiji Restoration, which also abolished principalities. Also known as Choshu or Hagi Domain, Nagato was an influential principality during the Tokugawa period. Together with the domain of Satsuma (now Kagoshima Prefecture), it was the most influential principality that rebelled against the Tokugawa shogunate and wanted to restore power to the emperor. The capital and administrative center of today’s prefecture is the city of Yamaguchi. The largest and most important city, however, is the port city of Shimonoseki, connected to Japan’s main southern island of Kyushu by both a tunnel and a bridge.

Hagi – city rich in history

Long as the home of the most influential samurai clan in the area, Hagi was very powerful during the feudal period. A diverse culture and high-quality craftsmanship have been able to develop here. At that time, the mighty Mori clan reigned over present-day Yamaguchi. With the construction of the castle of the same name in 1604, the seat of the Hiroshima clan was finally moved here. Hagi remained the political center of Yamaguchi for more than 250 years. This historical legacy is still visible in the city today.

The historic center of Hagi is one of the main attractions and is located in the northwestern part of the city. Here you will find many traditional houses that were once the residences of samurai and local traders. They are crisscrossed by traditional streets and surrounded by the typical walls that still adorn Japanese properties today. Although only ruins remain of the former Hagi Castle, it is still one of the most famous sights in the city. The site has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015 and is a popular travel destination, especially during the cherry blossom season. Also, in Hagi there are many temples and shrines that are worth visiting.

Pottery art in Yamaguchi

Hagi pottery is a highlight of the city. Image: Raffaello Fukuda

Hagi was largely spared from natural disasters and military conflicts, so that a thriving craftsmanship could develop here. Above all, the art of pottery is known and loved beyond the borders of the area as Hagi pottery (Japanese 萩 焼, hagi yaki). This art was probably introduced from Korea in the 16th century. Today tea sets are mainly made in this style, but also flower pots and sake bottles.

The special feature is the glaze, which creates intentional cracks during firing and thus allows the Hagi ceramic to “mature” during use. Because the tea tannins settle in the cracks with frequent use and cause these to become even more noticeable. This creates an ever-changing work of art and therefore a special kind of aesthetic. Even today you can find small artisan shops throughout the city that still produce this ceramic in an artisanal way.

Samurai district in Hagi, Yamaguchi.
Samurai district in Hagi, Yamaguchi. Image: Raffaello Fukuda

Coastal landscapes and sanctuaries

Motonosumi Inari Shrine is a highlight in Yamaguchi.
Motonosumi Inari Shrine is a highlight in Yamaguchi. Image: SocialHermit (CC BY-NC 2.0) |

Yamaguchi has many beautiful coastal scenery, but due to its location at the lower end of the main Japanese island of Kyushu, it is a relatively undiscovered travel destination. However, a coastal shrine suddenly gained popularity when it was mentioned by the US broadcaster CNN: Motonosumi Inari Shrine was also listed among the “31 most beautiful places in Japan”. This is especially striking with its 123 red torii, which together form a tunnel that winds picturesquely along the coast and is a popular photo motif.
According to legend, the sanctuary got its name when a white fox appeared in a dream to a local fisherman who asked him to build a sanctuary on the spot. In the past, people prayed here mainly for a good rice harvest, but today also wishes such as prosperity, luck in love or success in school are expressed.

Iwakuni in Yamaguchi

Iwakuni is a small town in the southeast of Yamaguchi prefecture, but it still has some tourist attractions. Especially well known is the Kintai Bridge, which consists of 5 wooden arches, which in turn stand on stone pillars and cross the Nishiki River. The original bridge was built in 1673 and has been a symbol of the city and even a national treasure of Japan ever since.

Iwakuni in Japan
Kintai-kyo Bridge in Iwakuni, Japan | Image: Flickr © Daniel Tam (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

At the end of the bridge is another of the city’s attractions, Kikko Park. The park has countless types of flowers, which attract many visitors, especially in spring. There are also a lot of cherry trees here. The park is also a sanctuary for a white snake species found only here. White snakes are the symbol of Benten, the Japanese goddess of wealth, which is why they are considered lucky charms.

Akiyoshidai – Ancient limestone caves

Akiyoshidai is the largest karst plateau in Japan and is located in the quasi-national park of the same name in the north of the prefecture. Here are many limestone caves of different sizes that are over 350 million years old. One of these is the so-called Akiyoshido Cave, which is one of the longest caves in Japan and can be partially visited by visitors. Here you will find several limestone formations and an extensive network of tunnels.

Since the Akiyoshidai area is part of a geo-park, there are also guided tours throughout the site. Here you can learn about the history and origins of this area and be informed about nature protection and sustainable regional development. In the park there are also various information centers, museums, an observatory and a small shopping street with restaurants and shops.

islands and beaches

Thanks to its southern location and access to the sea, Yamaguchi offers many opportunities for beach stays in addition to the rocky coastal landscapes. Tsunoshima Island, located in the northwestern part of the prefecture, is particularly popular. It can be reached via the second longest bridge in Japan, the so-called Tsunoshima Bridge, which is 1,780 meters long. Accessible to cars and bicycles, it is a popular attraction on the way to the island as it offers very impressive views.

On the island, which measures just over 4 square meters, only 900 people live and you can experience nature up close. In addition to several beautiful beaches, the island also offers beautiful parks and a lighthouse that is over 130 years old. So if you want to relax a bit surrounded by nature and the sea, this is the place for you.

View of Tsunoshima Island.
View of Tsunoshima Island. Image: Samuel Berner / Unsplash

Yamaguchi is more than just a gateway to Kyushu and offers visitors interested in Japanese history and crafts a variety of options, away from the tourist crowds. More information can be found on Japan Travel.

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