Lord Ouchi and Yamaguchi
by local historian Shin Uchida
The town of Yamaguchi was founded early in the Muromachi era in the middle of 14th century. Ouchi Hiroyo, who was a member of a powerful family clan in the Suo area, was assigned by the Muromachi Shogunate to protect the Suo, Nagato, and Iwami areas. He also often went to Kyoto to take up the Shogunate's politics. He was fascinated by the appearance of Kyoto's elegance and wanted to build a beautiful well-organized town. Then he had his retainers look for land that was similar to Kyoto in Suo and chose the Yamaguchi basin to build a new town.
At first, he built the administrative office in the middle of the Yamaguchi basin and readjusted the division of land lengthwise and breadthwise. Streets were named Oji or Koji so that they sounded like ones in Kyoto. He asked the Kitanotenjin Shrine in Kyoto to build this temple in Yamaguchi. He made a lot of efforts to build the reputation of the city, so Yamaguchi and the Ouchi family became more and more prosperous in the next 200 years.
The Onin War happened in Kyoto in middle of Muromachi era, so many aristocrats and cultured men fled to peaceful Yamaguchi. Because of this, the town continued to flourish as the Kyoto of the west.
Yamaguchi city has Imahachimangu shrine, Furukuma Shrine, Doshunji Temple and Ryufukuji Temple that are important cultural assets including a national treasure in Rurikoji Temple's five-story pagoda. We can imagine how the Ouchi culture flourished because of these buildings. Ouchi Yoshitaka ruled 7 territories from the Chugoku area to the northern Kyushu area. Fransisco Xavier , who came to Japan around that time, said, "Yamaguchi is the most advanced town in Japan." However, Yoshitaka was so absorbed in pursuing cultural life that he forgot to watch his back and was betrayed by his chief retainer. The Ouchi family was destroyed.
Mori became a feudal lord of Suo and Nagato and built his castle in Hagi after the fall of the Ouchi family. Yamaguchi became a small deserted town in the mountains during the Edo era. The Choshu clan realized that, in an emergency, it would be difficult to command from a remote area like Hagi. So in the last days of the Edo era, they moved the administrative office to Yamaguchi from Hagi. From that time on, Yamaguchi was the land of planning the Meiji restoration and took the initiative in building modern Japan. There are many remnants of the Meiji Restoration in Yamaguchi city.