The first castle in Hagi was built by the Yoshimi clan. But it was not until 1608 when the Mori clan, exiled here after a humiliating defeat by the Tokugawa shogunate, built their massive, imposing castle at the foot of Mt. Shizuki. The Mori clan transferred the capital of the Choshu Domain (Choshu-han) from Hiroshima to Hagi at the same time, where it remained the political center of the region for over 250 years.
In the middle of the 19th century, the Choshu allied with the Satsuma Domain to deliver some long-awaited payback, toppling the Tokugawa shogunate and thereby spurring the Meiji Restoration — and, with it, the modernizing of feudal Japan. Many Meiji statesmen were born and raised in Hagi, such as Hirobumi Ito, the first Japanese Prime Minister.
JR Higashi-Hagi Station, ☎ +81 0838-25-3145. summer 9AM-5PM, autumn-spring 9AM-5PM. Left-luggage services are available. If you're staying overnight, they can arrange delivery to your hotel while you explore the city.edit
Hagi-Iwami Airport (IWJ) has one flight per day from Haneda (Tokyo) and Itami (Osaka) on ANA. Shuttle buses run from the airport to the city (80 minutes).
Yamaguchi Ube Airport (UBJ) in Ube is the prefecture's largest airport, with regular flights to Haneda Airport in Tokyo on JAL and ANA (about 90 minutes). From Ube, take a bus to Shin-Yamaguchi Station in Yamaguchi and connect via bus from there (see below).
The closest Shinkansen station is Shin-Yamaguchi. Many Hikari and a few Nozomi trains stop there. The train link to Hagi from here is about 3 hours by limited express, but you can cut that in half by taking "Hagi-go" (はぎ号) bus to Hagi. It's run by Chugoku JR Bus .
If you want to take the train the full distance to Hagi, you'll want to take the Shinkansen to Asa station. Asa is only serviced by Kodama trains, and it is two stops from Shin-Yamaguchi and also two stops from Kokura, which is much more well serviced. From Asa take the Mine line to Nagatoshi (1 hour). Then take the San'in Line to Higashi-Hagi Station (half hour). You need to be careful to plan the conections well (both trains average about once every two hours), but if you do, this is about the same time as the bus from Shin-Yamaguchi.
If you like coastal scenery, you could also take the San'in line all the way from Shimonoseki, but this adds anouther hour.
The San'in Main Line runs around Hagi's main island. There are three stops in town: JR Higashi-Hagi Station (東萩駅), across the Matsumoto River to the east of the city center; JR Hagi Station (萩駅), a long walk to the south of the city center; and JR Tamae Station (玉江駅), a short walk south of the castle ruins and Mt. Shizuki.
When considering the train vs. bus question. You need to consider that local rural trains are not particularly comfortable nor do they have air conditioning, and for the bus, people that have trouble with motion sickness will have problems with the winding mountain highways, especially the way they are driven by these busses.
The main bus station is the Hagi Bus Center (萩バスセンター), which is located in the city center. Buses run from Hiroshima (four hours), Umeda and Abeno-bashi in Osaka by Kintetsu  (10 hours), and Shinagawa in Tokyo by Keikyu  (14 hours).
The city center is on a delta between the Hashimoto River and the Matsumoto River. If you decide to walk, you're joining a long tradition — Hagi-Oukan (萩往還), which connects Hagi and Yamaguchi City, was an important route during the Edo period, traveled frequently by merchants and samurai. It's now a popular trail for history-minded tourists.
The Hagi Junkan Maaru Bus (萩循環まぁーるバス) runs 7AM-7PM to almost all of the tourist sights. There are stops throughout town, but the two routes — blue and red — cross paths at a few points, including the Hagi Bus Center in the center of town. There are departures every half-hour or so. Rides of any length cost only ¥100, or ¥500 for a day pass.
The blue buses cover the north, west, and northwest parts of the city, including JR Tamae Station, the castle ruins, and the Horiuchi, Jokamachi, and Teramachi areas. The red buses cover the south and northeast, including JR Higashi-Hagi Station, Daisho-in, and sites further out such as Kasayama and the Reverberating Furnace.
The Chōshū Five (長州五傑 Chōshū Goketsu) were members of the ruling class of the Chōshū-han. In 1863, they disguised themselves as English sailors and went to study in England at University College London, despite the policy of sakoku, which made leaving Japan illegal under penalty of death. Each went on to play a major role in the modernizing of Japan, and they remain heroes in Hagi today.
Hirobumi Ito - the first Prime Minister of Japan Kaoru Inoue - Minster for Foreign Affairs Yozo Yamao - prominent engineer Kinsuke Endo - the first head of the National Mint Masaru Inoue - known as the "Father of the Japanese Railways"
Keep an eye out for "bent key" (kaimagari 鍵曲) paths while wandering through the castle town. These sharp right angles were designed to confuse enemies and make it easy for warriors who knew the terrain to corner them, so adjust your invasions accordingly.
Hagi Castle (萩城跡 ''Hagi-jo''), ☎ +81 0838-25-1826. 8AM-4:30PM, from 8:30AM Nov-Feb, to 6PM March. Hagi Castle served as the political center of the Choshu-han for over 250 years, only to be dismantled when the Choshu took the lead in modernizing Japan. (Castles are sooo feudal.) Stone walls, the moat, and gardens mark the remains of the castle today. Admission includes the Mori House, which is just south of the park.¥210 adults, ¥100 children. edit
Shizuki Park. Surrounding the castle ruins, this park is a popular spot for cherry blossom parties in the spring. Also here are a small shrine, a teahouse, the Jozangama pottery kiln (城山窯), and a hiking path leading up to the peak of Mt. Shizuki (about 140 meters).edit
The Horiuchi area (堀内), just southeast of Shizuki Park, was a residential section for wealthy merchants and the samurai elite. Many old houses, temples, and shrines remain in good condition, with virtually no modern structures among them. Just to the east of Horiuchi, the Jokamachi area also has several interesting old houses that are open to the public.
Kikuya House (菊屋家住宅 Kikuya-ke Jutaku), 1-1 Gofuku, ☎ +81 0838-25-8282, . 9AM-5:30PM. The Kikuya merchant family lived in style, with a large house and a lovely garden. Today, their house is open to the public with over 5,000 period items on display, from dolls to a vintage phone booth.¥500 adults, ¥300 students, ¥200 kids. edit
Ishii Chawan Museum, 33-3 Minamifuruhagi-machi, ☎ +81 0838-22-1211. Tu-Su 9AM-12PM, 1PM-4:45PM. A good place to check out hagi-yaki (see Buy), with a particular emphasis on tea bowls.¥500. edit
Meirin-kan (明倫館), 3ku no 1 Emukai (Hagi Shiyakusho bus stop), ☎ +81 0838-25-3139. Established by the Choshu-han, this school for gifted children was originally on the third floor of Hagi Castle, but moved to its own facilities in 1863. The school building is still in use as a part of elementary school. Visitors are free to tour the grounds, but not the interior.edit
Continuing east from Jokamachi, the Teramachi area features a cluster of old temples that were intended to double as barracks in case of enemy attack. Among the notables is Jonen-ji, whose carved front gate was transported from Kyoto by the Mori clan.
This area is a few minutes southeast of JR Higashi-Hagi Station, across the Matsumoto River from the city center.
Red gate of Tokoji
Shoin Shrine (松蔭神社), 1537 Matsumotoshi, Chinto, ☎ +81 0838-22-4643, . 8:30AM-5PM. A Meiji-era shrine dedicated to Yoshida Shoin, a young samurai who taught many of the students that went on to become major statesmen in Meiji Japan. Yoshida himself would not see it, though; chafing under the policy of sakoku, he tried to persuade Commodore Perry to smuggle him out of Japan, was imprisoned, and was later executed after plotting against the shogunate. Within the grounds of the shrine, his school Shoka-sonjuku (松下村塾) is preserved. There is also a hall dedicated to his life story (9AM-5PM, ¥650).Free. edit
Hirobumi Ito House, ☎ +81 0838-25-3139. 9AM-5PM. The former residence of Hirobumi Ito, the aforementioned first Prime Minister of Japan, and himself a former Shoin student. He served four terms as prime minister and drafted the Meiji constitution, but his involvement in Japan's annexation of Korea is a blot on his legacy.Free. edit
Tokoji (東光寺). 8:30AM-5PM. This is the family shrine of the Mori clan. The beautiful gate, belfry, and temple buildings show Chinese influence; behind the temple are the graves of several Mori warlords — and 500 stone lanterns to mark their power. It's a short walk east of Shoin Shrine.¥300. edit
In the southwestern part of the city is the Hiyako area (平安古), which features a few museums of interest and more old houses that are open to tourists, such as that of Giichi Tanaka, another former Prime Minister.
Hagi Museum (萩博物館), 335 Horiuchi, ☎ +81 0838-25-6447, . 9AM-5PM. Built in 2004, this museum has exhibitions about samurai Yoshida Shoin and Takasugi Shinsaku.¥500 adults, ¥300 students, ¥100 children. edit
Hagi Prefectural Art Museum (山口県立萩美術館・浦上記念館), 586-1 Hiyako, . 9AM-5PM. Features displays of Asian pottery and Japanese ukiyo-e (wood-block prints).Admission varies by exhibit. edit
In the southeast corner of the city, the Aibagawa Canal (藍場川) was built for transportation of goods, and also to supply water for extinguishing fires. Today, the path along the canal makes for a nice stroll.
Daisho-in (大照院). 8:30AM-5PM. The Mori warlords who aren't at Toko-ji are buried here — along with the graves of several retainers, who committed seppuku upon the death of their masters. The atmosphere at Daisho-in is strikingly calm, though, compared to the pomp of Tokoji.¥300. edit
Kasayama (笠山) is the smallest active volcano in East Asia, and offers panoramic views of the Sea of Japan. Look for the lovely camellia flowers during February and March, and the small Myojin Pond at the foot of the mountain, which houses saltwater fish. It's accessible from JR Koshigahama Station, which precedes Highashi-Hagi on the San'in Line.
Reverberating Furnace (萩反射炉 Hanshuro), 2kuno-2 Maeobata. This massive furnace was built in 1858 for the production of modern weapons, but rarely used. It's partially in ruins today, but still an impressive sight, located northeast of the city center.Free. edit
Amidst all of the old samurai atmosphere, don't forget that Hagi is on the Sea of Japan — there's swimming to be done. Try Kikugahama, a popular beach to the east of Mt. Shizuki and north of the city center.
Boat Cruise (萩八景遊覧船), ☎ +81 0838-25-1750. 9AM-4PM March-Oct, to 3PM Nov. The Hagi Tourist Association runs pleasant cruises on the Hashimoto River and the Sea of Japan, with a guide to direct attention to the Eight Fine Views.¥1200 adults, ¥600 kids. edit
Kurumayado Tenjuppei (俥宿天十平), ☎ +81 0838-26-6474, . 9AM-5PM. Rickshaw tours of the historic sections of the city center. They have standard itineraries to match the tour length, but substitutions can be made.For two people, expect to pay ¥6000 for 30 minutes, ¥10,000 for one hour, or ¥20,000 two hours.. edit
Yuzuya Honten, 1189 Nakoya, ☎ +81 0838-25-7511, . 9AM-5:30PM. The natsumikan is a citrus fruit that's grown in many local gardens, and squeezed into a tasty juice. At Yuzuya Honten, you can buy natsumikan and other local fruits whole, enjoy them as ice cream, or lend a hand at turning them into juice or marmalade. Visitors also get a free cup of Sonjoku, a local beer. It's on a peninsula directly north of the city — either take a cab or walk west from JR Koshigahama Station.edit
Hagi-yaki Festival (萩焼まつり). This festival is at the beginning of May. About 50 pottery shops from around the city come to the City Gymnasium to exhibit and sell their wares. It's a great opportunity to buy hagi-yaki at a low price.edit
Hagi Summer Festival (萩夏まつり). This festival at the beginning of August. On the first day, about 8,000 fireworks are lit over the sea off Kikugahama.edit
Hagi Historical Festival (萩時代まつり). During weekends in November, this festival involves people in traditional Choshu garb on parade through the center of town.edit
Hagi-yaki (萩焼) is the local form of Japanese pottery and the top souvenir from a trip to Hagi. It is unique because of the way it reacts to water; over time, you'll notice delicate changes in its color. A few pottery shops offer visitors the chance to cast their own hagi-yaki — check with a tourist information office to see what's currently available.
The Tamachi arcade runs through the center of town with an array of small shops, modern and traditional. Souvenir shops are also clustered around the castle. Another option is the Hagi Seaside Market (9:30AM-6PM), a complex of shops and restaurants that sell fresh seafood and hagi-yaki.
Kenran Beef (見蘭牛) is a local specialty. It has a fatty, marbled texture and tenderness. Most hotels will have it on their dinner menu. Hagi is also a great place for fresh seafood, particularly sea urchin and squid.
Ajiro, 43-1 Imafuruhagi-machi, ☎ +81 0838-22-0010, . Th-Tu 11:30AM-2PM, 5PM-9PM. Kaiseki sets of the best of the local seafood catch.¥2300-¥6100. edit
Fujitaya, 59 Kumagaya-cho, ☎ +81 0838-22-1086. 11AM-7PM. A local institution — though a bit tricky to find — Fujitaya serves hot tempura and other dishes, but the specialty is seiro-soba, in which tasty soba noodles are delivered to your table in a steaming basket.¥700. edit
Hotori Tei, 62 Minami Katakawa, ☎ +81 0838-22-1755. 11AM-5PM. Lunch sets in a lovely garden setting, in Jokamachi. Later in the evening, the same folks run Sam's Irish Pub (see Drink).¥1600. edit
Isuzu, 8-1 Imafuruhagi-machi, ☎ +81 0838-22-5196. 11AM-3PM, 5PM-11PM. Sea urchin and other tasty sea critters.edit
Midoriya Farm, 89 Horiuchi, ☎ +81 0838-26-0141, . Tu-Su 5PM-10PM, lunch by reservation 11:30AM-2PM. The famed Kenran Beef is grilled here; if you enjoy it, gift boxes are available to take home. Seafood is served as well.Sets from ¥2100-¥5250. edit
Tangotei, ☎ +81 0838-72-0264, . W-M 11AM-2PM, 5PM-8PM. Delicious, freshly caught seafood, including knockout sashimi. It's in the former town of Tamagawa, recently merged into Hagi (now northeast of the city center) near JR Esaki Station.Sets from ¥1380, or a feast for ¥5800. edit
If you're planning to splurge on a traditional Japanese inn, Hagi is a great place to do it; the art of the ryokan is taken seriously here, and the atmospheric old quarters are well worth an early morning or late evening stroll. The local ryokan association  has a booking desk at the Hagi Bus Center (9AM-5:30PM, tel. +81 0838-22-7599).
Hagi Royal Intelligent Hotel, 3000-5 Chinto, ☎ +81 0838-21-4589, . A good business hotel. Amenities include Internet access and a breakfast of rice balls & miso soup. Rooms have private baths, but there's a small public bath available.Rooms from ¥5400 single, ¥7400 double. edit
Hagi Youth Hostel, 109-22 Horiuchi (JR Tamae Station), ☎ +81 0838-22-0733. Excellent location near the castle ruins. Bike rentals available.¥2940 per night; breakfast ¥525, dinner ¥945. edit
Hagi Honjin, 385-8 Chinto, ☎ +81 0838-22-5252, . Western and Japanese-style rooms in a hotel eight stories tall, with a rooftop lounge and some very nice public baths.Rooms from ¥12,600. edit
Senshunraku, 467-2 Horiuchi, ☎ +81 0838-22-0326, . A hot spring inn with easy access to the beach at Kikugahama. The rooms aren't quite sparkling, but the armored samurai mannequins guarding the lobby ought to keep away any troublemakers.Rooms from ¥11,500. edit
Hokumon Yashiki (北門屋敷), 210 Horiuchi, ☎ +81 0838-22-7521, . Elegant Japanese-style rooms with a beautiful garden and outdoor baths. Good seafood dinners as well.Rooms ¥20-68,000, including two meals. edit
Hagi no yado Tomoe (萩の宿・常茂恵), 608-53 Hijiwara-Koboji, ☎ +81 0838-22-0150, . The height of luxury in Hagi — this is a gorgeous ryokan with a raked-stone garden, onsen, free pick-up from the train station, and more.Rooms ¥20-70,000, including dinner and breakfast. edit