The small city of Hagi is perhaps Yamaguchi Prefecture’s most beautiful secret. The ocean meets the mountains and culture meets modernity. This is an integral center of Japan’s own industrial revolution but one with cultural history, a beautiful beach, and enough charm to provide a couple of escapists with a few days away from the rest of the world.
Aside from one or two gems away from the city center, many of Hagi’s highlights may be enjoyed within a fairly compact area. It’s best discovered either by renting a kimono and wandering the old castle town or hiring bikes to see the sights. And while the quiet, wide-open streets are surely great for families, to me, Hagi is the perfect spot to spend with someone special.
Meiringakusha Visitor Center
The first stop is the Hagi Meiringakusha Visitor Center. What used to be a school is now a beautiful history museum, complete with everything from an engaging video outlining the city’s role in the Meiji Industrial Revolution and the famous scholars Chōshū Five, to a VR experience where, for just ¥100, visitors can travel back in time to sit with those historical scholars and their mentor, Yoshida Shōin. But perhaps the most remarkable part of the museum is the collection of guns, cannons, swords, and more, all donated by one man. Mr. Ogawa is said to have around 6,000 pieces in his collection, of which about 600 are on display.
It’s already time for lunch at Fujitaya to enjoy delicious seiro-style soba with tempura. The small, traditionally-decored restaurant houses a lovely garden with views where cats sit atop the roof, casually watching the world go by.
Kimonos in Castle Town
The afternoon is all about tradition and beauty, dressing up at Kimono Style Cafe and enjoying a traditional tea ceremony at the gorgeous Kikuya Residence before strolling the streets of the old castle town. This authentic step-back-in-time experience seems both at odds and yet suited to the more recent history of this charming city.
The next step is to rent a bicycle from Yokoyama Shoten and see a bit more. Kikugahama Beach is the perfect place to end your day with views of the mountains and the sea. It’s here that the people of Hagi celebrate each August with a fireworks display over the water. For those who particularly enjoy uncovering Hagi’s secrets by bicycle, it does make for both an environmentally conscious and enjoyable way to see this compact and bike-friendly city.
Refreshed from an evening of relaxation and onsen heaven at Hagi Honjin, head to the former Yukawa Residence which offers both a beautiful Japanese garden and a traditional home with water from the adjacent Aiba Waterway channeled directly through the kitchen. Before you go, say a quick hello to the koi who call the waterway home.
Hagi is famous for its pottery and now it’s time to make and/or paint some of your very own Hagiyaki at Jōzan Pottery Studio, learning from a master pottery maker. Even for those who don’t see themselves as being into something like pottery, it’s a satisfying feeling to indulge your creative side.
After lunch in beautiful surroundings at Hotori Tei, visit the Shōin Shrine and see where Yoshida Shōin would educate the Chōshū Five scholars (the actual site of your VR experience from yesterday) and Tōkōji, the most beautiful and mystical temple and home to the graves of the Mori Clan. It’s this area where you may want to stay awhile and be sure to bring your camera.
Time permitting, check out the orange-tile-roofed town of Akiragi. Although you’ll want to swap your bike for a car, scooter, or bus, this quiet little area features houses with distinct orange tiles said to be stronger for withstanding snow. Akiragi began as a staging post for travelers during the final days of Tokugawa Shogunate when samurai would come and go in their fight against the Shogunate.