Situated on the scenic north coast of Yamaguchi on the Japan Sea, Hagi is a delightful small town rich in history. This was where the Mōri clan built up a great power base during the Sengoku (Warring States) Period in the 15th and 16th centuries. With the start of the Edo Period (1603-1868), the clan fell out of favor with the new Tokugawa Shogunate and their territory, the Chōshū Domain with Hagi as its capital, was reduced to what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture. Chōshū would rise again, however, as they conspired with the Satsuma Domain (Kagoshima) to overthrow the shogunate, ending the Edo Period and beginning Japan’s ascent to modernity with the Meiji Restoration.
Hagi’s history is readily visible today. The city is proud to claim that you can still use a map from the Edo Period to get around. The old castle town is on a river delta island and has a large and very well preserved sightseeing district with samurai and merchant houses. Just walking down the streets is interesting, but points of interest include residences of famous historic people (such as the Kikuya Family), the Hagi Museum, ruins of an Edo Period school, parks, an old waterway with colorful carp, angled streets designed for castle defense, and old shops. Rickshaw rides are available near the entrance to the central parking area next to Central Park (Chūō Kōen).
Hagi is famous for its high-quality pottery, which is readily available in the castle town shops. Oranges are also abundant in spring and summer. This variety, seen growing all around the town, is less sweet, more sour, closer to grapefruit in taste, and very refreshing. This area is also great place to see—and wear—kimono. There’s even a shop here where you can try one on and rent it for the day. There are a few cafés and restaurants, with some of the standouts being Sam’s Irish Pub / Hotori Tei Japanese Garden Café and the Italian-inspired La Ceiba.
Outside of the castle town, there are a variety of other worthwhile sites. Just next to it, past the sightseeing cruise boats, lie the castle ruins to the northwest (near Mt. Shizuki). Also nearby is the Aiba Waterway, with colorful carp swimming along the historic buildings, on the southeast part of the island. To the east of the island, across the Matsumoto River, are Tōkōji Temple, a 150-year-old melting furnace for making cannons, other residences of prominent Hagi notables, and preserved schools such as those at Shōin Jinja, the shrine, school, home, and prison of the revered intellectual, Yamada Shōin. North from there, in the Mt. Kasa area, you can visit a tiny volcano, a camellia forest, scenic Myojin Pond, and the Ebisugihana Shipyard Ruins.
Overall, Hagi, with a population of only 50,000, is a surprising find and a recommended stop along the northern coast of Yamaguchi, near Omi Island and Tsuno Island. Accommodation is available within the old city center as well as on the seaside at a hotel or ryokan.