Iwakuni, which means rock country, covers over 860 square kilometers of countryside, beaches and small bays and small mountains. Iwakuni City is found in the eastern part of the Yamaguchi Prefecture which is located west of Honshu, the biggest island in Japan, on the border with the Hiroshima Prefecture. An outstanding attraction of the city is the five-arched Kintai Bridge that spans the Nishiki River. Built in 1673 to allow residents to escape river floods, it was destroyed by a flood in 1950 but was rebuilt to its original shape.
Another point of interest is the Iwakuni Castle. Located on the summit of Shiroyama, the castle provides a breathtaking view of the city and the Seto Sea. Formally founded in 1940, Iwakuni City took in the surrounding towns of Kuga, Mikawa, Miwa, Nikishi, Shuto, Yu, and the village of Hongo to form the new and bigger city of Iwakuni.
History of Iwakuni
Built in 1608, during the Edo period, Iwakuni Castle’s location was erected on the top of Mount Shiroyama due to its high vantage point. Partially surrounded by the Nishiki River which acted as a natural moat to help protect it during battle, the castle was four stories high with a view of the city 200 meters beneath.
Iwakuni was a castle town that was governed by Lord Hiroie Kikkawa after he was exiled there for backing a defeated shogun, Terumotu Mori, during the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In 1602, Lord Kikkawa built his residence at the base of the mountain. But because of the “One Province, One Castle” law, Kikkawa was ordered to tear down Iwakuni Castle after only 7 years. Iwakuni Castle, as we know it today, was reconstructed only in 1962.
The Kintai Bridge was constructed to enable samurai and noblemen to cross the Nishiki River. Commoners commuted using ferry boats, which proved hazardous at times. However, heavy floods and strong storms repeatedly continued to wash away the bridge’s supporting pillars. In 1673, the concept of multiple arch support, due to the width of the river, was born.
After a series of trials and error, the bridge’s stone pillars were finally reinforced successfully. Three centuries passed before a strong Typhoon Kijiya managed to destroy the bridge again in 1950. In 1953, the reconstruction of the wooden arches was finalized. However, continuous renovations have been necessary to strengthen and maintain the bridge over the past 6 decades.
Quick Facts About Modern Day Iwakuni City
Iwakuni city, which belongs to the Chugoku region, currently has a population (as of August 1, 2016) of 137,128 people. Its total area comprises 873.72 square kilometers, giving it a population density of 156.95 square kilometers. Its current mayor is Yoshihiko Fukuda. The symbols used to represent this city are the Cinnamomum camphora for the Tree and the Cherry blossom for the flower. In 2006, Iwakuni absorbed six towns (Miwa, Mikawa, Kuga, Shuto, Yu, Nishiki) and one village (Hongo), and grew considerably in size from this.
Today, Iwakuni’s industries mostly spinning, paper, fibers, and petrochemicals. It is known as a producer of a hefty amount of petroleum, serving the Marifu refinery that belongs to Nippon Oil. 127,000 barrels are produced per day, just by this company. It’s also known for holding Nippon’s paper mill, which creates pulp using methane fermentation, a novel procedure that is pro-environment, as it uses little energy to yield.
As for the agricultural industry, Iwakuni is known for producing “renkon” or lotus root, which is a staple to many savory Japanese dishes. Ozu area, particularly the Hasuda field, is where much of the lotus roots are harvested.
More About the Marine Base in Iwakuni, Japan
In 1938, the Japanese government wanted to put up a naval base in Iwakuni. The Japanese government purchased almost 2,000 acres of the Kawashimo Delta and began commissioning this new base in 1940. It was of crucial help once the Second World War occurred, as it served as the area’s base for defense and training. On the airstrip, there was a total of 150 Zero fighter planes and 96 trainers.
An academy to help train cadets was founded in September of 1943 here, named the Etajima Naval Academy. A thousand cadets were put through the course immediately, and that number did not diminish throughout the years. In 1945, bombs were dropped around the train station and oil refinery by American B-29’s. This happened during both May and August of that year and would continue until the very last day previous to the war ending.
The American occupation took over henceforth, with U.S. marines approaching the air base, saying that the war had officially ended. Aside from the U.S.A, other countries deployed military forces here, such as Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF repaired the base, as it was turned in 1948 into a Royal Australian Air Force Base.
Further Use of the Base at Iwakuni; Possible Airport, Storage
Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni was supposed to start being an airport, and take in private airlines beginning 1952 until 1964. In fact, it already was given an airport code, which was IWJ. This project was halted when the duty was given instead to Shimane Prefecture’s Iwami Airport.
There was an incident that occurred during 1966 that was only made known of in 2010, regarding Japan’s nuclear weapons. Instead of keeping these weapons in Okinawa, they were moved to be put in storage in Iwakuni. The American ambassador to Japan at that time, Edwin O. Reischauer, found out about this, he threatened the U.S. Department of State that he would let this fact be known to all if they didn’t do anything about it for a month and a half. The nuclear weapons were later removed.
Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Today
Today, 5,000 United States Marines – together with their families - occupy this air station. It is used to train soldiers to fly fighter jets, practice air patrol, and as a service to protect Japan. The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force also shares the use of their facilities. There are also public elementary and high schools of the Department of Defense established here, named after Matthew C. Perry. Numerous citizens of Iwakuni still want this air station to be turned into an airport.
Details About Housing for Marines in Iwakuni
The personnel of MCAS Iwakuni sometimes get to let their family members move with them to Japan. Thus, housing was made in Iwakuni to support them. The division responsible for this is the Family Housing Office, which makes sure that the dependents of permanent members of the military can try to live on-base with them.
There are many types of housing; the mid rise with 2 or 3 bedrooms, the town house with 2, 3, or 4 bedrooms, the single-family housing with 3-4 bedrooms, a duplex with 3-4 bedrooms, or a row house with 3 bedrooms. There are guides on the MCAS Iwakuni website that can help you apply for housing, as well as sample pictures of the possible residence choices.
The Time Zone used in Iwakuni, Japan
The time zone used in Iwakuni is in congruence to the time system that the rest of Japan uses, which is JST, or Japan Standard Time. In Japanese, this is written as “日本標準時”, or Nihon Hyojunji. It can otherwise be written as “中央標準時”, or Chuo Hyojunji.
JST is 9 hours ahead of UTC, which is Coordinated Universal Time. JST used to be called “Tokyo Standard Time” back during the second World War. It does not abide by daylight saving time. It follows the same time used in Korea, as well as parts of Indonesia.
What is the Weather and Climate Like in Iwakuni?
Being in the southern part of Japan and nearer the equator, Iwakuni has warmer weather than cities up north. It rains often around this area, with precipitation ranging from averages of 55 mm on December, to 293 mm on June. Its average temperature during January and February – its coldest months – is 4-4.5 degrees Celsius. As for its hottest months, July and August, average temperatures read at 26.1 degrees Celsius to 26.9 degrees Celsius.
A Travel Guide to Iwakuni
Iwakuni is a small, but a quaint city that is known for its strong links to Japan’s history, as well as more recent events such as World War II. There are many things to do, see, and eat in this city that will endear you greatly to it.
Grab A Map of Iwakuni
First thing’s first – it’s important to familiarize yourself with the area of Iwakuni, if not, at least its transit system. That way, you can align your itinerary efficiently, making sure you don’t go back and forth to different places, as you have your bearings in order. You may acquire a map of Iwakuni for free by printing one out from Google maps – or if you are tech-savvy, just keep an offline version of the map on your mobile device for easy access.
The Best Hotels to Stay In Iwakuni
Two choices stick out when it comes to the best hotels to stay in while you’re visiting Iwakuni. These two are the Green Rich Hotel Iwakuni Ekimae, and the Iwakuni Kokusai Kanko Hotel.
The Iwakuni Kokusai Kanko hotel goes for around 15,517 yen per night – but it’s worth the price, as the food is reportedly delicious, and the onsen is comfortable. It’s also very traditional; kind of like a ryokan, so you’ll see rooms with tatami mats, as well as options for you to dress up in a kimono. It’s also got a spectacular view of Iwakuni bridge. This hotel was given a rating of 4 out of 5 stars by 114 reviews and is considered the number 1 hotel to stay in while in Iwakuni.
For those on a budget, your next choice is the Green Rich Hotel Iwakuni Ekimae. They offer cleanliness, comfort, and convenience at a lower price – and, as one review would say, it “does the job”. The food is decent, the service is friendly, though the room and amenity spaces are a little tight. A night here costs about 7,604 yen.
Don’t Miss This While You’re in Iwakuni, Japan
Now that you have your possible accommodation down, it’s time to discuss places you should go see when you visit Iwakuni. The most popular things to do here include visiting the Kintai Bridge and Iwakuni Castle, followed by a stroll in the beautiful Kikko Park.
When visiting Iwakuni Castle, it’s important to plan and be prepared for it, as you may choose to hike up the castle for more than a mile (this will take 45 minutes) or use the ropeway (15 minutes). It costs 260 yen to enter the castle, while if you use the ropeway, it costs an additional 550 yen. If you want to see the Kintai bridge as well, you may avail of a 940-yen package deal. In the castle, you’ll see beautiful samurai swords and a glorious top view from the observation deck.
As for Kikko Park, it is a relaxing place to stay and take a breath. There is a serene fish pond, where you can feed the fish.
For those who like museums, they venture to the Choko-kan museum, which details what life was like in this region hundreds of years ago, during the Edo period, through collections of paintings and artifacts. Admission is free, and it’s open from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. It is closed on Mondays. Another notable museum is the Kikkawa Historical Museum, which used to be the actual residence of an Edo-period Samurai. It displays the history of this Samurai's clan, its accomplishments, and artifacts it acquired throughout its seat in power.
As for cuisine, Iwakuni is known to have delicious lotus roots, as they are planted and harvested locally. You may also want to sample their rice porridge, which is flavored with “bancha” tea; a traditional dish made by a man named Hiroe Kikkawa, 400 years ago. He came up with this dish to create a low-cost meal. Also, Iwakuni is known for its sushi that is shaped to look squarish instead of circular.
Iwakuni may be a quaint town, compared to other more bustling and busy parts of Japan, but that’s exactly what makes it such a gem to visit. No matter what age are or walk of life you come from, you’ll surely love Iwakuni.