Japan (April 2019): Hagi (1/2: On the island)


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Annotated aerial view of Hagi.


Hagi is an old castle town (pop. ~50,000) located in the southern part of the San-in coast, on the delta formed by the Abu-gawa (river). Most of the city is built on an island bounded by the Sea of Japan to the north and two branches of the Abu-gawa, the Matsumoto-gawa to the east and the Hashimoto-gawa to the south and west. The island is flat, except for Mount Shizuki (143m) that forms a cape at the northeast. The rest of the city is built on the eastern side of the Matsumoto-gawa and the southern and western sides of the Hashimoto-gawa.


During the Edo period, until the Meiji restoration, for more than 260 years, Hagi was the fief of the Mori clan and the capital of the Hagi domain, also known as the Choshu domain, which approximately covered the present Yamaguchi prefecture. Fourteen successive Mori lords ruled the domain, starting with its founder Mori Terumoto. Terumoto was the grandson of the great warlord Mori Motonari. In the late 1500s, as a vassal of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he was a powerful member of the Council of the Five Great Elders appointed by Hideyoshi, along with Ieyasu Tokugawa. He was then controlling a large domain centered on Hiroshima, where he built the castle of Hiroshima. After the death of Hideyoshi, he sided against Tokugawa. Following Tokugawa′s victory at the battle of Sekigahara (October 21, 1600), Terumoto had his domain greatly reduced. He retreated to Hagi and made it into his new stronghold, where he built the Hagi castle in 1604. Perhaps a mediocre general, he was nevertheless a good administrator. He managed his reduced domain well, held the Mori clan together, and patronized the development of the Hagi ware, a type of ceramic pottery considered one of the best in Japan, which contributed to the wealth of the domain.


In the 19th century, in the late Edo era and the Meiji era, Hagi played an important role as one of the birthplaces of modern Japan. It contributed to the industrial revolution of Japan, by experimenting with technologies from Western nations, and to the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate and the subsequent restoration of power to the emperor. A Hagi man from a modest samurai family, Yoshida Shoin (1830-1859), developed revolutionary ideas and taught them in a small private school in Hagi. Although he was executed 9 years before the Meiji restoration, several of his students fought against the shogunate and became political and military leaders during the Meiji era. There is some irony in the fact that the victory of Ieyasu Tokugawa at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 led to the formation of the Hagi domain by the loser, Mori Terumoto, and that 268 years later people from Hagi contributed to the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868.


Hagi is an amazingly interesting city despite its relatively small size. Although its castle has been dismantled at the Meiji restoration, the former grounds of the castle now constitute a beautiful park, especially during sakura (cherry blossom). The old samurai and merchant districts (respectively, called Horiuchi and Jokamachi) are well preserved. The graveyards of the Mori lords at the Buddhist Daishoin and Toko-ji temples form impressive spiritually-charged sites.


I created two pages about Hagi. The first (this one) is about places located on the island, while the second (see here) deals with sites off the island.


The city of Hagi seen from the birthplace of Shoin Yoshida located on a hill east of the Matsumoto-gawa above the Shoin shrine. Mount Shizuki stands at the center-right of the photo.




It was built by Lord Mori Terumoto in 1604 at the foot and on the slopes of a 143m hill (Mt. Shizuki). The castle was dismantled in 1874 during the Meiji restoration. Today, only outer defense walls and part of the moat remain at the foot of the hill. There are also ruins of ancient walls at the top of the hill. The outer walls now enclose a beautiful park, Shizuki-koen, planted with hundreds of cherry trees, with a teahouse and a Shinto shrine built in the 19th century at its center.


Some of the outer defense walls seen at different times of the day. Mt. Shizuki is visible in the first photo below.




Blooming cherry trees in Shizuki-koen.





Main alley in Shizuki-koen with a large stone torii, leading to the Shizukiyama shrine.



The Shizukiyama shrine constructed in 1878, located at the end of the alley. Five Mori lords are enshrined here.



In the garden of the Hananoe teahouse.


Garden in the back of Shizuki-koen.


Old samurai district (Horiuchi):


Bronze statue of Lord Mori Terumoto (1553-1625), the founder of the Hagi domain, a short distance south of the castle that he built.


Former residence of the Asa Mori family, a branch of the large Mori clan. All that remains of the residence built in 1856 is a tenement nagaya, a long house made of a succession of separate rooms, opening all on the same side of the house, each serving as a samurai residence. With a length of 51m long and a width of 5m this nagaya is the largest former samurai residence remaining in Hagi.


Tenjuin graveyard, where Mori Terumoto is buried, along with his wife.


Gate of the former residence (which no longer exists) of the Fukuhara family, the chief retainers of the Hagi lords.


Kaimagari street. It is bordered by high walls on both sides and makes successive right angles for defensive purpose.



Various old walls in the vicinity of the Kaimagari street.



The Masuda Family house and watchtower, believed to have been used for weapon storage. The taller part of the house, built on top of a stone wall, was used to check the surrounding grounds.


Tenement-house gate of the Suu family residence.


Kasuga shrine, one of the many branches of the Kasuga Taisha in Nara, located in the southeastern corner of the old samurai district.


Statue of a white horse next to the shrine. (In Shinto horses are regarded as intermediates between the world of the humans and the world of the gods. Statues are usually white as white horses are expected to bring sunny weather. The less common statues of black horses are believed to favor rain.)




Heron in the outer moat on the eastern edge of the samurai district.


Old merchant district (Jokamachi):


View of the northernmost street of the district, where two impressive merchant residences are located: the Kikuya and Kobuta residences.


Kikuya residence, built in 1604 (early Edo era) by a wealthy merchant who came to Hagi with Mori Terumoto, following his defeat at the battle of Sekigahara.





Kubota family residence. It was built in the early 19th century by Shoshichi Kobuta, a kimono merchant, and later expanded by his son.




Enseiji shrine/temple located on the eastern side of the merchant district. It is a rare example where a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple share a common ground. (Shinto and Buddhism were separated at the Meiji restoration.)


- Entrance gate (seen from the interior of the precinct),


- In the prayer hall of the Buddhist temple. Note the two lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The black sign (three dots below a horizontal bar) on each of them is the ″mon″ (Japanese term for emblem or coat of arms) of the Mori clan.


- The adjacent Shinto shrine is dedicated to Tengu, a legendary creature treated as a god in Shinto. A Tengu is traditionally depicted with a long nose.



- Again a statue of a white horse, next to the Shinto shrine.


Port area (Hamasakimachi):


This district is located at the northern tip of the Hagi island, between the Sea of Japan and the mouth of the Matsumoto-gawa. It consists of narrow streets bordered by old warehouses and residences, some dating from the first half of the 19th century.



Boathouse built soon after the completion of the castle near the Matsumoto-gawa. The boats of the Hagi lords were stored here.


Former warehouse.


Residential homes.




Aiba waterway:


This long canal flows through the southeastern part of the Hagi island, from the tip of the peninsula coined between the Matsumoto-gawa and the Hashimoto-gawa to the outer moat of the samurai district. Constructed in the first half of the 18th century, it was used for irrigation and the transportation of rice and firewood. Today the canal is narrower and can no longer serve these purposes. But the section traversing the southeastern peninsula of the island is an excellent place for a stroll. It is quite picturesque and bordered by former residences.


Along the canal.



Former residence of Taro Katsura (1848-1913), a general and politician who served three times as Prime Minister. The usage of the basin in the photo on the right is interesting: by pouring water into the rocks beneath it and bringing the bamboo pipe into one′s ear at one end and close to the rocks at the other end, one can hear a very relaxing type of ″music″, never twice exactly the same made by the water droplets falling through the rocks into another basin located below.


Yukawa family residence. In the first photo below note the two openings below the residence into the canal. Stone stairs from the kitchen give access to the opening on the left of the bridge for washing food and tableware (see the photo on the left in the next row). Another set of stairs from the bathroom located on the right of the bridge leads to the canal for bathing (photo on the right in the next row). Note also the big pink carp in the canal (photo on the right in the first row).




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