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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Hagi

Mōri daimyō tombs at Tōkō-ji temple

2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration 明治維新, the restoration of imperial rule that brought to an end Japan's feudal period and ushered in the modernizations that made the country a world power by the end of the 19th century. One of the places that will keenly commemorate the event (at least judging by all the banners seen around town) is Hagi 萩, a city of 50,000 in Yamaguchi Prefecture 山口県. The castle town of the Chōshū Domain 長州藩, its leaders worked with Satsuma 薩摩藩 (present-day Kagoshima 鹿児島) to overthrow the Tokugawa shōgunate 徳川幕府 in 1867 and usher in a new age. Which makes it a little ironic that, despite several UNESCO World Heritage industrial sites, the town is most noted for its feudal atmosphere.

We arrived at Higashi-Hagi Station 東萩駅 after a nearly two-hour bus ride from Tsuwano 津和野 in Shimane Prefecture 島根県 and immediately sought out lunch at nearby Dining Mameta ダイニングまめた, which in addition to good food, sported an interesting collection of sake 日本酒 and soda bottles:




With appetites sated and bags safely stowed in coin lockers, we hopped on one of Hagi's loop buses and took it out to Shizuki-kōen 指月公園, located at the western tip of the city at the foot of Shizuki-yama 指月山, a 143-meter-high (469 feet) hill. The park holds the remains of Hagi-jō 萩城 castle, built in 1604 but destroyed when Mōri Takachika 毛利敬親 moved his base to Yamaguchi 山口 in 1874:


The park grounds are home to more than six hundred cherry trees (December being the wrong time to see cherry blossoms, of course), the Hananoe teahouse 花江茶停 (1845) and the Shizuki-yama shrine 指月山神社, among other things:




The day was sunny but more than a little chilly:


There are also views out to the Sea of Japan 日本海. There's even a decent-looking beach (Kikugahama 菊ヶ浜), though the end of December isn't the best time to go for a swim in the choppy, frigid waters:




Hagi is also noted for its Hagi-yaki 萩焼 pottery, and my daughter used some of her Christmas money to purchase a couple of pastel-glazed pieces:


After checking out the Asa Mōri House (a nagaya 長屋, or Japanese long house, and which was used for housing clan soldiers), my wife and I took a break to sample some of the local Cyonmage craft beer チョンマゲビール:


It was getting late in the afternoon, so we hopped on a loop bus for the ride back into town, pausing to have an early dinner at a Dondon どんどん noodle restaurant, before phoning our accommodations and arranging to be picked up from the station. The Hagi Kankō Hotel 萩観光ホテルwas another budget-buster of a hotel located five kilometers to the north of Higashi-Hagi Station, at the foot of Kasa-yama 笠山, a small, extinct volcano (112 meters/367 feet). One look at our room was enough to know the cost was justified:


Amber shows off her ceramic purchases:


The hotel features indoor and outdoor hot springs, as well as expansive breakfasts:


The view over the bay to the mountains in the distance from our fourth-floor room:


Shu-E was still suffering from the effects of a poorly-timed cold and so sensibly opted to stay in and relax (who could blame her?). The hotel provided an 0850 shuttle to Higashi-Hagi Station, giving my daughter and I time to walk downhill to check out Myōhin-ike 明神池, a large pond connected to the sea and teeming with saltwater fish:


Top: Red seabream; Striped beakfish; Grunter; Largescale blackfish; Hong Kong grouper
Bottom: Kusabugu; Dotted gizzard shad; Flathead mullet; Red stingray; Bastard halibut


We returned to the hotel and the shuttle:



Hagi is a surprisingly sprawling town. At the train station Amber and I rented a couple of bicycles for the day and rode out to the Horiuchi 堀内 samurai district (also known as Jōkamachi 城下町) and the Kikuya-te Jūtaku 菊屋家住宅, a historic residence dating back to 1606. The Kikuya family were merchants, not samurai 侍, and the displays contain numerous items from daily life as well as some interesting scrolls and maps of old Hagi:









My daughter stands on a side street next to the Kikuya Residence:


Back on the bikes for further exploration of the narrow lanes of the UNESCO World Heritage site:





Riding through the central Tamachi 田町 shopping arcade, still quiet at 11 o'clock on a Thursday morning:



We crossed the Matsumoto-gawa 松本川 river to one of Hagi's most popular sites, the Shōin-jina 松陰神社 Shintō shrine, where it was time for lunch:


Shōin-jinja was founded in 1890 and is dedicated to Yoshida Shōin 吉田松陰, a 19th-century scholar and revolutionary leader. When the American black ships appeared in Edo Bay 江戸湾 in 1853, Yoshida believed that the best response for the country would be to reinstate imperial rule and emulate the Western countries. He went so far as to board one of Commodore Perry's vessels but was handed over to the shōgunate authorities, who banished him back to Hagi:




Yoshida continued his campaign to "revere the emperor, expel the barbarians" 尊王攘夷, and ended up being put under house arrest in a residence 吉田松陰幽囚の旧宅 located on the grounds of the shrine. As Amber pointed out, the large building didn't seem like that bad of a place to be locked up:




While confined, Yoshida taught disciples at the small Shōka Sonjuku 松下村塾 academy next door to the residence, where his pupils included future prime minister Itō Hirobumi 伊藤博文. His constant advocacy of revolution didn't go over too well with the Tokugawa authorities, who finally had him executed at the age of 29 in 1860, for plotting to assassinate an official. However, those he had taught and inspired would go on to lead the Meiji Restoration and the attainment of Yoshida's aim in 1868:



From Shōin-jinja, my daughter and I continued uphill to Tōkō-ji 東光寺, the Zen temple which served as the family temple of the Mōri clan. The temple was founded in 1691 and its construction shows a strong Chinese influence, such as the Sōmon 総門 outer gate (1693):


The Sanmon 三門 main gate dates from 1811 and is an Important Cultural Property:


The 1698 Daiōhōden 大雄宝殿 main hall is another Important Cultural Property. According to the pamphlet we were given with our entrance tickets, the Ōbaku Zen 黄檗宗 school has its roots in Ming-dynasty China and its priests chant in Mandarin, which explains why there are no tatami mats inside the hall:



Behind the main hall are the tombs of five Mōri lords, at the top of a stone pathway flanked by nearly 500 stone lanterns donated by vassals:



Onigawara 鬼瓦 roof tiles protect the temple from evil:


The Kaipan 魚梛, a large wooden carp gong struck to announce meals and services:


Uphill from Tōkō-ji is Tanjōchi 誕生地, the birthplace of Yoshida Shōin, marked by a statue of the revolutionary as well as his final resting site (and views of the town below):




Everywhere you go in Hagi you encounter natsu mikan ナツミカン (summer orange) trees, first planted in 1876 as a way for redundant samurai to earn money:


Back in the central part of Hagi, Amber and I took a break at McDonald's, then walked over to a local department store, where my daughter had a go at a taiko rhythm arcade game 太鼓の達人. We also visited a drugstore to pick up some much-needed cold medicine for Mom:



Returning our bikes to the shop next to Higashi-Hagi Station at the end of a full-day. We certainly got our money's worth!:


We caught the free shuttle back to the Hagi Kankō and reunited with Shu-E, who did venture out at one point during the day to visit Myōjin-ike. While Amber went upstairs to get ready for dinner, I walked down to the pond to check out the Kazeana 風穴, an opening in the earth where cold air rushes out from cracks in the volcanic lava. I didn't feel anything except the hairs on the back of my rise, thanks to the eerie cawing of the unseen crows in the trees above as darkness set in:


Admiring the view again from our room before heading downstairs to the dining room for dinner:



Thursday ended with a relaxing bath in both the indoor and outdoor 露天風呂 onsen. Friday morning began with our final Japanese-style breakfast of this trip:


We checked out of the Hagi Kankō and took the shuttle down to the train station to catch the train to our next destination, Shimonoseki 下関. But not before taking in the views from the lobby one last time:




"The jewel in Yamaguchi's crown" (according to Lonely Planet) Hagi most definitely merits further exploration. Amber and I only scratched the surface of the old samurai and merchant quarter. There are other temples to check out in Tera-machi 寺町, hiking on Shizuki-yama and Kasa-yama, museums to visit (one that we tried to see, the Hagi Uragami Museum 萩浦上記念館, turned out to be closed between Christmas and New Year's Day) and even a temple (Unrinji 雲林時) devoted to cats (carved ones), 22 kilometers to the east of the town. Plus there's that beach, which no doubt offers a welcome respite from the heat of July and August. As The Rough Guide to Japan puts it, "Hagi is a delightful place to spend a little time".

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