When we think of Japan often we think of the megacities of Tokyo and Osaka. The bright lights of these metropolises, constantly filled with action, intrigue and weirdness. Yamaguchi offers a change of pace from all that.
Yamaguchi is a prefecture in the Chugoku region, the most western prefecture on the main island of Honshu. It sits on the inland sea of Japan, just south of Hiroshima, and west of Matsuyama City. Japanese people see it as incredibly important to preserve the traditions and culture of Yamaguchi, that is why people from all of over Japan come to visit this out-of-the-way place.
Yamaguchi is a small but very impressive cluster of traditional Japanese culture that stays true to the history of the country.
1. Ruriko-ji Temple
Near Yamaguchi City is the famous Buddhist temple Ruiko-ji. This five- storied pagoda is almost 600 years old making it the 10th oldest and is considered the third most beautiful in Japan after the Horyu-ji Temple near Nara and the Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto.
Around the temple you can find Kozan Park, a public park converted from the old temple grounds. In the park there is a bell tower, a prayer hall and a museum recording the development of the area and the history of this style of Pagoda.
2. Ohara Lake
Yamaguchi doesn’t translate to “mouth of the mountain” for nothing. The region is incredibly mountainous and thus very hard to cultivate. This means there are large pockets of untouched wilderness around the prefecture. So if you ever wanted to camp in the wilds of Japan and see its beautiful flora and fauna, then Ohara Lake is the destination for you.
Ohara Lake is only 50 minutes from Yamaguchi City and can even be accessed by bus, but it isn’t urbanised at all and feels extremely peaceful. The lake is an amazing fishing spot and attracts a healthy amount of tourists every year.
3. Stone Bath of Kishimi
Connected to the city of Hofu is the town of Tokujikishimi. This small unassuming town has a very pious history. In 1490 a piece of wood that resembled Buddha was found at the bottom of a Shinto shrine’s well. The local feudal lord saw this as good omen and commissioned the construction of a new temple, Daikenzan Senno-ji, to worship the holy artifact. Over time the temple fell into disuse and by World War 2 was completely abandoned.
More recently, locals have come together to construct a new temple in the area called Chosho-ji, and have a celebration every year called the stone bath anniversary. Every 5th of July people gather and heat rocks upon the temple alter, then use them to heat a sauna to thank the founder for his protection.
The festival is a must see for people who want to get in touch with Buddhism or see the more spiritual side of Japan.
4. Kintai-kyo bridge
This is the biggest attraction of Yamaguchi prefecture. The famous five arched bridge in the city of Iwakuni. Despite being regularly shown on Japanese travel programs and having many visitors every year the bridge never seems crowded. Yamaguchi offers the history of Japan without the crowds of Kyoto.
Kintai-kyo bridge was originally made to stop invading armies from crossing the Nishigawa River. It has five large arches to encumber attacking troops, but also to represent unity across western Honsu.
The bridge is at its most beautiful in August or spring. The peak seasons for tourists are when the cherry blossom trees bloom, and all of the trees planted down the river bank turn pink. The effect of the pink trees on the river is dazzling. Many people visit every year to take picture when the trees are pink and when they eventually turn all the beautiful gold and orange hues of autumn.
5. Ruins of Hagi Castle
Hagi Castle was once the jewel of Yamaguchi prefecture. It was built by the Daimyo Moti Terumoto who also built Hiroshima Castle. After he was attacked by another lord and forced out of his Hiroshima holdings he retreated to Hagi. The castle was unfortunately destroyed in 1874.
You can now walk around the castle grounds that have become Shizuki Park. There are beautiful paths to stroll down and a gorgeous mountain hiking terrain if you fancy seeing the nature around this historically important area.
6. Eat Fugu (If you dare)
Made famous in the west by TV shows like The Simpsons, Fugu is considered very dangerous. Whilst it is made from a puffer fish that is poisonous when prepared incorrectly, Japanese dishes of Fugu are always %100 safe.
Fugu is actually considered a delicacy and comes with a high price tag. The best place to try Fugu is Hagi in Yamaguchi prefecture. This is where most Fugu are caught so you can try the freshest fish possible. Japanese people love Fugu, the Fugu fish is the unofficial mascot of Yamaguchi prefecture.
7. Nishikigawa Sightseeing Railway
If you want to see more of the rural and classic Japan, but don’t want to hike over mountains, then you may be interested in this option. There is a small train line that connects the more rural mountain communities of eastern Yamaguchi called the Nishiki-Chou line. Many people ride the line just to sight-see from the comfortable air-conditioned seats inside. The train goes past beautiful scenery, rice fields, and even pauses to allow tourists to photograph waterfall that you can see along the way. You can get off at any of the stops to explore rural farming communities.
8. Oshima Island
Oshima island is Japans answer to Hawaii. Often marketed as a cheaper option for Japanese holiday makers who can’t afford to travel to Hawaii, the island does its best to draw in visitors. As well as holding Hawaiian cultural events the island also has beaches and resorts where you can go to cool off during the summer months. Katazoegahama Beach is held up as the best patch of coast on the island. Even the main city on the island, Suo-Oshima is a sister city of Kauai, Hawaii.
The island also has a lot of historical importance as it was the first place that sent Japanese workers to work in the sugar plantations in Hawaii and stated the relation between the two island peoples. Even further back in history the island is credited as being one of the places that modern Japanese culture and language originally came from. Traders and fishermen would travel from the island and populated the rest of the inland sea of Japan.
Tsunoshima is a small island with a big bridge. The island itself is an amazing place to go swimming and boasts some of the nicest beaches in Japan. Shiokaze cobalt Blue beach has tropical palm trees and soft white sand, it’s more like a Polynesian island than a Japanese one. The beaches are an unknown beauty of the area, as all of the Japanese tourists are only interested in the Tsunoshiba Bridge.
The thin bridge stretches over 1,780 meters connecting this tiny island to the mainland. The road stands above the Sea of Japan, skillfully interweaving itself around the islands. It’s the second longest in Japan and attracts a lot of tourist who want to drive along its scenic ocean route.
10. Iwakuni Castle
Iwakuni Castle lies just beyond Kintai-kyo bridge that was mentioned above. It can be hiked to or reached by cable-cars. The cable-cars give you a very impressive view of the bridge and the surrounding classical Japanese architecture, but nothing can beat the view from the castle itself. From the courtyard you can see all the way out to the sea. A truly magnificent view of the city.
The castle is now a museum, though it was once used by the Daimyo of Iwakuni to watch over his lands. The Daimyo constructed the castle and used it for official business from 1601 to 1608. He only used it for seven years because the Tokugawa Shogunate of the time ordered him to demolish it as it was a threat to the power of the already established Hiroshima Castle. The Daimyo took most of the castle apart, converting some to his private residence. The current castle we can visit today is a replica built in the 1960’s .
11. Akiyoshi Limestone Caves
The plateau of Akiyoshidai is filled with limestone formations that jut out of the ground, and continue under the surface. The landscape of this area is so strange because it used to be a coral reef around 300 million years ago. The almost alien look of the region comes from the limestone being weathered by the rain.
In the heart of the Akiyoshidai area are the limestone caves caused by this phenomenon. The caves stretch 9 kilometers into the rock. Tour groups are taken up to 1 kilometer, into the spacious cave. The caves are full of natural limestone formations that add to the uniqueness of the area. If you really want to explore the cave formations, there is an adventure trail that you can go down for an extra 300 yen, where you can see the deeper, less stable, parts of the cave.
12. Motonosumi Inari Shrine
You may have heard of Fushimi Inari Shrine the famous shrine in Kyoto with a line of Torii gates. Kyoto is always brimming with tourists and at peak times it can be anything but peaceful, Motonosumi Inari Shrine is a far more zen version that tourists have yet to discover.
The shrine is picturesque and has a series of Torii gates stretching over 100 meters. It is a very recent religious site, only being ordained in 1955 by a divine message from a fox spirit. The shrine is an offshoot of the Taikodani Inari shrine in Shimane prefecture, sharing some of their Torii gates and animal spirits.
The location is incredible and is a great way to see how traditional Japan is being preserved in modern times.
13. Futaoi Island Emu Farm
Futaoi Island is a tiny slice of rural Japanese life upon the sea. The island has a population of under 200 and has little more than a elementary school and port. The island is a great hide away from the public and has some interesting nature trails to explore. One such trail, if followed for long enough, will lead you to an Emu farm. Yes, this small island doesn’t have a super market but it does have an Imu farm! It is a bizarre little place that makes Japan live up to its reputation as the strangest of places.
Shimonoseki is the largest city in Yamaguchi. If you have had your fill of peace and tranquillity after visiting some of the other locations on our list then perhaps you should stop off here for some hustle and bustle. The city is in an important location because it is just across the water from the massive city of Fukouka, and has a port that is convenient for trade from neighbouring countries. The port even has passenger ferries that regularly take people to China and South Korea.
Whilst in the city you can enjoy all of the classic Japanese metropolitan activities like karaoke and arcades but Shimonoseki has some unique attractions to offer. The city has the tallest tower in western Honshu at 153 meters tall. From its observation deck you can see the full majesty of the city, the famous Kanmon Bridge that connects the city to the island of Kyushu, and the best place around for shopping: the Sea Mall & Daimaru Department Store.
The city is another great location to try Fugu fish as 80% of Fugu is transported through the area.
15. Yuda Onsen
In Yamaguchi city you will find a lot of hot springs and bath houses but Yuda Onsen is a must see. Legend says that an Albino fox was wounded and came to the area to heal. It dipped its wounded paw into a pond, healing it, but also causing the pond to heat and become a hot spring.
People from all around Yamaguchi travel to this spot to enjoy the fox-themed onsen. The locals are very proud of the story, statues of white foxes litter the area, and there is even a free heated foot bath at the train station.
In conclusion, Yamaguchi is a great place to visit if you want to escape the crowds of tourists and have a spectacular time in Japan.