Yamaguchi is the peaceful capital of Yamaguchi Prefecture right down in the south western corner of Honshu, facing Japan's southern island of Kyushu.
With a population of around 200,000, Yamaguchi has an easy-going feel and is an ideal base for exploring the local area including the historic towns of Hagi, Tsuwano and the limestone caverns of Akiyoshi-dai.
There's plenty to see and do in Yamaguchi - known as the "Kyoto of the West" including the superb Rurikoji Temple and pagoda, the modern St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church and the Zen garden Sesshutei at Joeji Temple, designed by the artist priest Sesshu.
Yamaguchi's attractions are quite spread out so bicycles or a car hire make good sense. Bicycles can be rented at the JR Yamaguchi Station.
Close to Yamaguchi Station is the beautiful St Francis Xavier Memorial Church (Sabieru Kinen Seido). The original Gothic-style church, built in 1952 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Xavier's visit to Yamaguchi, burnt down in mysterious circumstances in 1991 and was rebuilt by 1998 in modernist style with superb stained glass windows.
The church stands atop a hill in Kameyama Park (亀山公園). Below the church is a museum on the life and times of Francis Xavier and his epic journey to Japan. At the foot of the hill is the Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum (Tel: 083 922 0294) with a wide range of exhibits covering Yamaguchi's history, nature, geology as well as on the more general themes of science and astronomy. The Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum (Tel: 083 925 7788) also in Kameyama Park has a permanent collection of the photographs of Katsuji Fukuda (1899-1991).
North east from Kameyama Park is Kozan Park (香山公園), which contains the five-story pagoda of Rurikoji. The beautiful Muromachi era structure dates from 1404 and was built by the then lord of Yamaguchi, Moriharu Ouchi, to commemorate the death of his brother, Yoshihiro.
The pagoda at Rurikoji Temple in Yamaguchi is considered one of the top three pagodas in Japan. The temple park also contains a small museum dedicated to the other 50-plus pagodas in Japan with scale models and photographs. The Rurikoji pagoda is illuminated at night.
Also in Kozan Park is Toshunji Temple and the graves of the later Mori lords of Yamaguchi including Mori Takachika, who was active in the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 1860s and was the first daimyo to return his fief (han) to the Meiji Emperor. The Chinryutei tea house is of historic interest as it was used by anti-Tokugawa plotters such as Saigo Takamori to plan the downfall of the shogunate in the 1860s.
Heading east on Route 9 out of central Yamaguchi in the direction of Tsuwano brings you to the Sesshutei Garden at Joeji Temple (常栄寺). It is believed that the garden was commissioned in the 15th century by Lord Masahiro Ouchi using the services of the painter-priest Sesshu, who was in Yamaguchi at the time along with many other artists and nobles from Kyoto who had fled the war-torn capital.
The simple rock and moss garden, surrounded by maple trees contains a stone that represents Mount Fuji in its shape. There are paths up into the hills behind the garden.
Yamaguchi has a delightful mix of temples and churches revealing its Buddhist and Christian heritage
Yamaguchi's other attractions include the historic onsen hot springs at Yudaonsen, one stop west on the train from Yamaguchi Station. Legend has it that a white fox cured its injured leg in the healing waters. Back in Yamaguchi town is the pleasant Ichinosakagawa, which is a pleasant place to walk especially when the cherry trees along its banks are in full bloom.
A fun trip for steam locomotive fans is the SL Yamaguchi Go steam train, which runs the 69km between Shin Yamaguchi Station, via Yamaguchi Station, and Tsuwano in the mountains of Shimane Prefecture. The services operates on weekends and national holidays from mid-March to November.
Shin Yamaguchi Station is on the main shinkansen line to Fukuoka, Osaka and Tokyo. Change to a local JR train for JR Yamaguchi Station (25 minutes). The Yamaguchi tourist information center (Tel 083 933 0090) is upstairs at the station. The nearest airport is Yamaguchi Ube Airport. There are buses to Akiyoshi-dai (55 minutes), Hagi (70 minutes), Yamaguchi Ube Airport (1 hour) and Tsuwano from JR Yamaguchi Station as well as a number of local city buses. For more information on touring Yamaguchi Prefecture by train.
Getting Around Yamaguchi
Getting around central Yamaguchi city is easy enough by rental bicycle or on foot. If you wish to see some of the sights around Yamaguchi city such as Akiyoshi dai, visitors should consider hiring a car, though there are buses from Shin Yamaguchi Station and Yamaguchi Station.
Hotel Accommodation in Yamaguchi
Yamaguchi Prefecture has a number of good accommodation options: Kamenoi Hotel Iwakuni in Iwakuni, the APA Hotel Yamaguchi Hofu and Dormy Inn Premium Shimonoseki. Near Shin Yamaguchi Station are the Toyoko Inn Shin Yamaguchi Shinkansenguchi and the Comfort Hotel Shin-Yamaguchi.
Yudaonsen's hotels combine rooms with hot spring spas on the premises.
SL Yamaguchi Go
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