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Cities of Samurai Spirits and Revolutionary Minds

In addition to its historical aspects, Hagi has a unique natural formation. Facing the Japan Sea in the northwest and surrounded by mountains in three other directions, Hagi offers stunning views (especially at sunset!).

Hagi and Tsuwano are neighboring areas encompassing the two prefectures of Yamaguchi and Shimane. They are a set of popular tourist destinations among the Japanese due to their well kept historical remains, as well as the important roles they played during two crucial periods of Japanese history.

During Japan’s Warring States period from the mid-15th century to the early 17th century, Hagi and Tsuwano were under the control of the Mori clan, one of the most powerful clans at the time.  Both were castle towns developed for the feudalistic governing system with a distinct samurai spirit. After the Mori clan lost in the decisive Battle of Sekigahara, Hagi and Tsuwano ended up being governed by different lords – Hagi remained as Mori’s domain, but Tsuwano was taken from Mori as a penalty and a new lord was assigned to govern it. Therefore, the two areas went their separate ways and developed cultures of disparate styles for about 270 years until the Meiji Restoration.


Located in a small basin alongside a river, Tsuwano was developed by maximizing its natural and peaceful atmosphere. Browse the historical street which was once a district for the highest-ranked samurai families.

Hagi surged at the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868) in the late 19th century as one of the strongest groups of the anti-Tokugawa Shogunate, which claimed that Japan should be modernized. Following the ideological leader and founder of the influential school, Shokason-juku, Shoin Yoshida (who was unfortunately executed by the Tokugawa government), many elites organized an overturn of the government and successfully led Japan to enter the modern stage of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Contributors to this restoration were from Hagi. They include: Shinsaku Takasugi – the top leader of the anti-Tokugawa group in the clan and the founder of the Kiheitai (army comprised of low-class samurai and non-samurai class members), Kogoro Katsura – one of the leaders of the group who later held several important positions in the new Meiji government, including as envoy to the U.S. and Europe from 1871-73, and Hirobumi Ito – Japan’s first prime minister. Their stories are detailed in various novels and non-fiction works, making the city one of the most popular historical destinations.

Tourists to Hagi can visit good examples of high-class samurai mansions, Shokason-juku where all the above heros studied, Shoin Jinja where Yoshida is enshrined, the mansions of Takasugi, Katsura and Ito, traditional paths developed during the Edo period, and Tokoji Temple where most of the Mori lords rest. The city itself is like a historical museum, but for those who are not familiar with its historical aspects, it is recommended to first visit the Hagi Museum which provides an overview of the city.

Tsuwano is less dramatic in terms of history but it maintains its traditional lifestyle well, offering beautiful stone-paved alleys with “namako-kabe,” white latticed walls with clean carp-inhabited moats.

Educational Contribution in Tsuwano
Unlike neighboring Hagi, Tsuwano did not produce political heroes in the late 19th century. However, during the transitional period from traditional to modern society, an educational foundation was also well built in Tsuwano. The local governmental school, Yorokan was established in 1786 and taught a wide variety of curriculum including Confucianism, medicine and studies from China and Holland.

A graduate of the Yorokan in the 19th century, Amane Nishi is considered to be the pioneer of Japan’s modern philosophy by having incorporated Western philosophy while being influenced by Eastern philosophies.

Also a graduate of the Yorokan, Ogai Mori was a prominent novelist and a medical doctor at the turn of the 20th century. He spent four years in Germany as a military medical doctor during the late 19th century, and some of his notable stories are based on his experiences abroad.

Tsuwano frequently appears as the backdrop of stories in Ogai’s works. Most of his works, including novels and short stories, are available in English.In Tsuwano, tourists can visit Amane Nishi’s mansion and the Ogai Mori Memorial Museum.


Historic school in Tsuwano, Yorokan, is now open to the public as a local Folklore Museum. It is conveniently located near the Tonomachi area, a popular tourist destination, which used to be a neighborhood for higher ranked samurai.

Ogai Mori Memorial Museum
Built adjacent to Ogai’s mansion, which is a national historic landmark, the museum not only exhibits his archival photos, relics and memorabilia but also shows the house in view.