Building bridges old and new
The departure point for Kyushu and Korea, Yamaguchi bridges the urban and rural, the traditional and modern.
At the western tip of Honshu, Yamaguchi prefecture is the last point on the main island before you reach idyllic Kyushu and the tropical island paradise of Okinawa. You can literally walk to Kyushu from Yamaguchi, which is also a gateway between Japan and South Korea, offering a daily ferry service to and from Busan. The pace is generally laid-back, though thrill-seekers can get their fill petting Iwakuni’s famous albino snakes or trying Shimonoseki’s potentially fatal dish of fugu (blowfish).
Bordered by both the rural San-in and the industrialized San-yo coastlines, Yamaguchi was once seen as an alternative capital to Kyoto and played a major part in the ending of Japan’s shogun rule. History-buffs should head to historic Hagi to see the origins of the Meiji Restoration; samurai quarters and castle ruins make up the town’s picturesque streets. Hagi is also famous for pottery which you can try making at the local craft center.
Iwakuni is another worthwhile sightseeing stop on your way through the prefecture. It’s star attraction is the arched Kintai-kyo Bridge, a reconstructed copy of the original five-arched construction built in 1673. Like Hagi, you can stroll around the old samurai district and visit the castle, stopping for a quick thrill in one of the albino snake-viewing facilities. Head to the Akiyoshidai plateau near Yamaguchi city to see the limestone pillars sticking up through the ground like rocky weeds, as well as the largest limestone cave in Japan at Akiyoshido underneath.
The narrow Kanmon strait separates Kyushu from Shimonoseki, the end of the line for Japan’s main island. It’s about 15 minutes walk from one to the other through an area steeped in imperial history. You can climb or take the ropeway up Mount Hi-no-yama for some stunning views from the edge of Honshu. Shimonoseki is also known as the fugu capital of Japan and is probably the safest (?) place to try this deadly cuisine. Less fatal fish is available at the Karato Ichiba fish market, though you’ll have to wake up at an eye-watering 4am to get in on the action.