Iwakuni is located at the eastern end of Yamaguchi Prefecture. It borders the prefectures of Shimane and Hiroshima as well as the Seto Inland Sea. The city has an area of 873.78 km2 and a population of over 149,000 people.
One of Iwakuni’s famous products is renkon, or lotus root. Iwakuni has one of the highest amounts of renkon shipments in Japan. Renkon grown in Iwakuni are crisp and crunchy with a tasty flavor. The crest of the ruling clan of the former Iwakuni domain, the Kikkawa clan, contained nine circles, so it is said that the head of the clan was delighted by the fact that the renkon also had nine holes. One of Iwakuni’s famous delicacies is Iwakunizushi. Iwakunizushi is a type of sushi that is layered and then pressed. The sushi is made in a large mold, thus yielding dozens of servings at once, and has layers that contain ingredients such as rice, renkon, and fish. It was invented over three-hundred years ago by a cook for the head of the Kikkawa clan.
Perhaps the most recognizable location in Iwakuni is the Kintaikyō Bridge. The wooden bridge, which is roughly two-hundred meters long and five meters wide, spans the Nishiki River, the largest river in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The bridge has five continuous arches, and is one of the three most famous bridges in Japan. The bridge was originally built in 1673 by the third feudal lord of Iwakuni, Hiroyoshi Kikkawa, but it was washed away by a flood in the following year. A new bridge that was constructed in 1674 was washed away by a typhoon in 1950. It took two years, but the bridge was once again rebuilt. A survey of the bridge taken in 1993 revealed that it had become worn out, so from 2002-2004, the bridge was repaired using new materials.
Cormorant fishing at Kintaikyō Bridge will take place on the Nishiki River from June 1st through August 31st. Cormorant fishing is a tradition that has continued in Iwakuni for 370 years. Skilled fishermen manipulate specially trained cormorants to catch sweetfish in the river by pulling strings attached to the birds. For those wishing to observe the cormorants in action, it is possible to do so from a specially rented boat with a roof. You can also sample sweetfish dishes while you watch. Kintaikyō Bridge will be illuminated on evenings when cormorant fishing takes place. Visitors to the bridge during this period are sure to enjoy this picturesque scene. There is also a fireworks display held annually on the first Saturday in August as part of the Nishiki River Festival. The display serves as a backdrop for the bridge and creates a festive mood.
If you go to Iwakuni to see the Kintaikyō Bridge, make sure to visit Iwakuni Castle as well. The castle, commissioned by Hiroie Kikkawa, head of the ruling Kikkawa clan, was completed in 1608. The castle was destroyed in 1615 because the ruling Tokugawa shogunate had decreed that there could only be one castle per domain. At the time there was another castle in Hagi, which was also a part of the Chōshū Domain. The castle that stands today was reconstructed in 1962. In 2006, the castle was named one of the hundred most famous castles in Japan. The castle, which is located on the top of Mt. Shiroyama, is visible from Kintaikyō Bridge. The castle was built on top of the mountain so that it could not be easily attacked. You can see Iwakuni and the Seto Inland Sea from the top of the castle and the mountain, which is easily accessible by a ropeway. Riding the ropeway will give you another opportunity for an excellent view of Iwakuni and the Seto Inland Sea.