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Northern Chugoku Region

The scenic San-in coastal region is made up of northern Yamaguchi Prefecture and Shimane and Tottori Prefectures. Cut off by the Chugoku Mountains in the south, it has long been one of Japan's more remote areas. It has several national parks including Daisen-Oki National Park and San-in Coast National Park. There are lots of onsen (hot springs) and several places famous for their pottery. It has lots of beautiful coastline and the country's oldest Shinto shrine.

Hagi | Matsue |Tottori || Chugoku Area: San-yo

A hagi-yaki chawan
A hagi-yaki chawan (tea cup)
Izumo-Taisha shrine
Izumo-Taisha shrine

During the Edo Period (1600~1868), this castle town was the home of the powerful Mori family and many buildings connected to the family remain today. The main ones of interest are the remains of Hagi Castle in Shizuki Park, the samurai district and Shoka-sonjuku school. The town is famous for its hagi-yaki pottery, which is also made in the town of Nagato to the west. Hagi-yaki has been made in the area since the late-16th century. It became known mainly for its use in the tea ceremony. Many people don't realize that the early Hagi potters were actually Koreans brought to Japan after their country was invaded by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

About 20km to the southwet of Hagi is the desolate Akiyoshidai plateau, the largest limestone tableland in Japan. Akiyoshido, with a depth of almost 10km, is one of the largest limestone caves in the world and a popular tourist attraction. Full of stalagmites, stalactites, waterfalls, rivers and pools, it is a natural wonder. One interesting formation is known as hyakumaizara (100 saucers), which is a group of (actually over 500) pools formed by the flow of limestone-rich water down a shallow slope.

At the western end of Honshu, Shimonoseki is the land link to the southern island of Kyushu. It was the scene of one of Japan's most famous battles in 1185. In the naval Battle of Dannoura, the Minamoto clan finally destroyed the Taira clan to bring to an end their 5-year war. During the battle, the 7-year old emperor Antoku, a member of the Taira family, was drowned. Victory allowed Minamoto no Yoritomo to establish his leadership as shogun of the military government during the Kamakura Period (1185~1333). An unusual souvenir from the city would be a lantern made from a fugu (blowfish), also a local delicacy.

The capital of Shimane Prefecture, Matsue was a prosperous castle town during the Edo Period. Located between Lake Shinji and the Nakanoumi lagoon, it is known as the City of Water. Its castle is one of the few remaining original structures from feudal times. Built in 1611 on a hill, it has an excellent view from its 5-story donjon (keep) of the surrounding Shiroyama Park and beyond. The park is famed for its cherry trees. Yakumo Kinenkan is a museum built in 1933 in honor of the writer Koizumi Yakumo, better known abroad as Lafcadio Hearn, who lived and taught English briefly in the city. He married the daughter of a samurai and the museum is next to the old samurai house where they lived. Also of interest are the Kanden-an teahouse and Gesshoji and Kokubunji temples. Kokubunji means 'provincial temple' and one was built in each province in the 8th century under orders from the emperor. Todaiji in Nara was built as the head kokubunji.

Near the southern shore of Lake Shinji is Tamatsukuri Onsen, one of the most famous in the region. The resort retains much of the atmosphere of an old onsen town. Beyond the lake, on the outskirts of the city of Izumo, Izumo Taisha is the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan and one of the most sacred. It is built in the taisha-zukkuri style, believed to be oldest style of shrine architecture. The origin of the shrine is steeped in mythology but the present honden (main building) is the 25th building since the original and was built in 1744. The shrine is dedicated to Okuninushi no Mikoto, the god of marriage, good fortune and agriculture. The shrine has festivals in mid-May, mid-October and late November. During the Kamiari Matsuri festival in October, the gods from all over Japan are said to meet at the shrine for a 'conference'.

To the east of Matsue, the seafront Kaike Onsen has been popular since the 1920's. From here the nearby Mt. Daisen, an extinct volcano, resembles Mt. Fuji. At the center of Daisen-Oki National Park, the scenic mountain is a popular destination for skiers in winter and also has Daisenji temple, a training center for mountain ascetics.

The capital city of Tottori Prefecture has been badly damaged twice this century, by an earthquake in 1943 and by fire in 1952 so little remains of its castle-town past. It has an airport, making it a good entry point for the region. It is just over an hour from Tokyo. The 16km stretch of beach known as the Tottori Sand Dunes has been designated as a National Monument. The dunes reach a maximum height of over 90m. The area around Tottori has a lot of onsen resorts. Misasa Onsen, about an hour's drive west, is the largest radium spa in Japan. On the outskirts of the town, Ningyo Pass and Oshikakei gorge are both places of scenic beauty.

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