Some 80km east of Hagi, in the neighbouring prefecture of Shimane-ken, is the older and even more picturesque castle town of TSUWANO (津和野). Nestling in the shadow of the 908m-high extinct volcano, Aono-yama, around which mists swirl moodily each autumn, this is yet another small town that touts itself as a “Little Kyoto”.
Head first to the old streets of Tonomachi (殿町), southeast of the station. At the north end of the main pedestrian thoroughfare, Tonomachi-dōri, pause at the small Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art (葛飾北斎美術館) to view its refined collection of woodblock prints, illustrations and paintings by the famous nineteenth-century artist Hokusai Katsushika.
Tonomachi’s streets are bordered by narrow, carp-filled canals; the fish (which outnumber the town’s nine thousand residents by more than ten to one) were originally bred as emergency food supplies in the event of famine. The town’s prosperity, born of peace and enlightened rule by local daimyō, is evident from the handsome buildings. Look out for sake breweries and shops selling traditional sweets, including genji-maki, a soft sponge filled with sweet red-bean paste.
Easily spotted behind the white, tile-capped walls is the grey spire of the Catholic Church, built in 1931, which combines stained-glass windows and an organ with tatami flooring. Further along, near the banks of the Tsuwano-kawa, is the Yōrōkan (養老館), the former school for young samurai, now containing an uninspiring folk art museum.
Make a short detour across the Tsuwano-gawa to the Musée de Morijuku (杜塾美術館), a restored farmhouse fronted by raked-gravel gardens that has been converted into a smart modern gallery showing works by local contemporary artists, plus a small collection of etchings by Goya. Upstairs, the attendant will show you the pinhole camera in the shōji screen, capturing an image of the garden outside.