The small capital of the Yamaguchi prefecture (pop. 130,000) acted as alternative capital to Kyōto during the late Muromachi period (1467-1573), when the war raged around Kyōto and noblemen sought refuge in Western Honshū's remoteness.
The Kōzan-kōen Park (香山公園) and the adjacent Rurikō-ji Temple (瑠璃光寺) epitomize the Kyōto-style from the Muromachi period. The temple's iconic five-storied pagoda, built in 1404, was designated one of the top three pagodas in the country. The temple and park are located 1.5 km (1 mi) north of Yamaguchi Station, north-east of the Meiji-era Kenchō (Prefectural Office), which is also worth a look.
Yamaguchi played an important role during the Bakumatsu period. The daimyō of Hagi, Mōri Takachika, a key figure of the overthrow of the Tokugawa regime, often met near Rurikō-ji with other revolutionary samurai. He and his offspring are buried in the Kōzan-kōen Cemetery.
The second most important temple after Rurikō-ji is the Jōei-ji Temple (常栄寺), 3 km north-east from the JR station. It is famous for its rock and moss Zen garden, the Sesshū-tei (雪舟庭), designed ane named by the priest and master-painter Sesshū in the 15th century.
The Spanish missionary Francisco de Xavier came to Japan in 1549 and was allowed by the tolerant lord Ouchi to stay in Yamaguchi. He left 500 converts in the city, and a modern Memorial Church was built in 1952 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his visit to the city.
Yamaguchi has a few more temples, shrines and museums to offer, and it is a good idea to rent a bicycle to cover the sights, as they are spread quite far away from each others.
Also note that one of Japan's last steam locomotives, the SL Yamaguchi-go, runs daily from March to November between Ogori (10 km south-east of Yamaguchi) and the small castle town of Tsuwano.
How to get there
Most trains from/to Yamaguchi, including the shinkansen, pass through Shin-Yamaguchi station, 12 min from Yamaguchi station. There are direct connections from there to Shimonoseki (25min, ￥1,110), Tsuwano (1h, ￥1,110), Shin-Iwakuni (30 min, ￥1,620) and Hiroshima (35 min, ￥2,210).
Yamaguchi-Ube airport is about 40 minutes by bus (￥870) from Shin-Yamaguchi station. JAL and ANA have flights to Tokyo (Haneda) only.
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