Heading east from Shimonoseki along the San’in coast, the landscape becomes much more rugged and sparsely populated. Here the savage Sea of Japan has eroded the rocks into jagged shapes, and if you take the train you’ll see some marvellously bleak shorelines. The next town of any consequence is HAGI (萩), some 70km northeast of Shimonoseki, which dates back to 1604 when warlord Mōri Terumoto built his castle at the tip of an island between the Hashimoto and Matsumoto rivers. Hagi’s castle is long ruined, but the atmospheric graveyards of the Mōri daimyō, the layouts of the samurai and merchants’ quarters – Horiuchi and Jōkamachi – and the temple district of Teramachi remain, with several significant buildings intact. These attractive plaster-walled streets are the town’s main attraction, together with its renowned pottery, Hagi-yaki, considered Japan’s next-best style of ceramics after Kyoto’s Raku-yaki – you can hardly move around Hagi without coming across a shop selling the pastel-glazed wares. The town is also famous for the role that some of its citizens played in the Meiji Restoration, such as Yoshida Shōin, who was executed by the Tokugawa Shogunate for his radical beliefs and is now enshrined at Shōin-jinja.
Sharing the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of other Yamaguchi-ken towns, Hagi is certainly worth visiting. If you rent a bike, you can easily take in the most important sights in a day and still have time to crash out on Kikugahama, a fine stretch of beach beside the castle ruins.