The little town of Hagi (pop. 50,000) on the Northern coast of the Yamaguchi prefecture (formerly Choshu) is one of the most interesting places in Western Japan.
Hagi was founded in 1604 by warlord Mori Terumoto, who erected his castle on the island created by the Hashimoto and Matsumoto rivers. The town developed in a samurai stronghold under the Mori Daimyō and later played an important role in the Meiji Restoration.
In 1854, a samurai from Hagi named Yoshida Shōin attempted to leave Japan on one of Commodore Perry's ships in order to study in the West. He was discovered, returned to the Japanese authorities and imprisoned in Edo. When he returned to Hagi, he planned the asassination of a shōgunate official, but his plan failed and he was executed at age 29.
Many samurai from Hagi felt inspired by Yoshida Shōin's revolutionary ideas about the need of Japan to learn from the West in order to compete with it. In 1867, the combined forces of Chōshu and Satsuma routed the shōgunate's army and restored the power of the emperor. The most famous samurai from Hagi was the four-time prime minister Itō Hirobumi.
Hagi is a pleasant little town suitable for strolling and biking. It has several historical places, like the Jōkamachi's old samurai residential quarter, the temples of the Teramachi district or the ruins of the castle in the Shizuki-kōen Park.
Hagi is also renowed for its pastel-glazed pottery (Hagi-yaki), which connoiseurs rank only second to Kyōto's Raku-yaki. Although in feudal times only samurai were allowed to use pottery, nowadays shops for tourists can be found all over the town.
The Daishō-in Temple (大照院), south of the Hashimoto river is the resting place of the two first Mori daimyō, then all the even-number ones, while odd-number daimyō were laid to rest in the Tōkō-ji Temple (東光寺), east of the Matsumoto river. Both temples's entrance are lined up with hundreds of stone lanterns.
Yoshida Shōin has been enshrined in the Shōin Shrine (松陰神社), located halfway between the Matsumoto river and Tōkō-ji Temple.
The houses of the Mori family (south of the castle) and of Itō Hirobumi (next to Shōin Shrine) can also be visited.
How to get there
Hagi is quite isolated from the main train lines. It can be accessed from Yamaguchi (2h50min, ￥2,520), Tsuwano (2h10min, ￥1,620) or Matsue (3h30min, ￥3,890), all via Masuda. Alternatively, there are trains from Shimonoseki (2h30min, ￥1,890) via Nagato City. The nearest shinkansen station is Shin-Yamaguchi, so if you are coming from Hiroshima, Osaka or Tokyo you will have to change train there.
The nearest airport is Hagi-Iwami, near Masuda. To get there you will have to take a train to Masuda (1h35min, ￥1,110), then a bus from there (15min, ￥290). ANA has flights to/from Tokyo (Haneda) and Osaka (Itami).