SANYO-ONODA, Japan- I'm probably a typical Japanese who tends to be sympathetic to the weak, and as such, I wanted to support a low-profile tourist spot. Thus, I chose Sanyo-Onoda as my travel destination in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
The city, however, is somewhat high-profile - among the cities whose names are all written in kanji, it boasts having the longest name in the country with five characters.
Of course, the city's fascination goes beyond its long name. Kuguri Iwa, a huge, strange-shaped rock, has an overwhelming presence at Cape Motoyama, which looks like it's sticking out into the Sea of Suo.
The rock has three narrow, vertical openings. I assume its name, which means to go through rock, comes from the fact a person can pass through all three gaps.
The surrounding area of the Yakeno Kaigan coast near the cape has been chosen as "one of the 100 most beautiful sunset spots in Japan." The orange tinge from the sunset looked beautiful to me from the rocks.
About a 10-minute drive north from the cape brings people to the summit of Mt. Ryuo. Conquering the mountain is not difficult as it is only 136 meters above sea level, which makes it well suited for hiking.
I heard visitors here can see 10,000 cherry trees in full bloom in spring, numerous himebotaru fireflies dancing around in early summer and the arriving asagimadara (a migrant butterfly known as the chestnut tiger) in autumn.
"Although the mountain isn't very tall, it's one of the best spots to see various wildflowers and upland plants throughout the year," said Norikazu Shimada, 66, chairman of a group of guides who introduce the local history, nature and folklore. Shimada is particularly familiar with the nature in the area.
Shimada added: "From the observatory on the summit, we can clearly see the six provinces" in the region, which are Nagato, Suo, Chikuzen, Buzen, Bungo and Iyo, in their old names.
I would recommend climbing the mountain after sunset to see neighbouring Ube and its cold-looking illuminations of a group of factories, Kanmon Bridge and other facilities, which are quite impressive.
The view at night is also registered as one of the 100 most beautiful nightscapes in Japan and one of the heritage nightscapes in Japan.
In addition to the abundance of nature, there are many other attractive spots worth visiting.
One of them, Tokkurigama (literally, sake bottle kiln), is an important cultural property designated by the central government.
It is also a legacy of Jumpachi Kasai, who founded the former Onoda Cement Manufacturing Co., which was the first private cement company in the nation. As its humorous name indicates, the shaft kiln certainly looks like a tokkuri, a stout sake container.
I wondered why a cement factory was founded here.