If you tell a Japanese person that you’re going to Chūgoku, they might think you’re going to China since the region and the country share a name and Chinese characters (kanji). Chūgoku is thus called chūgoku-chiho (the Chūgoku region).
Because of its proximity to the Korean peninsula and China, the Chūgoku region was a gateway for Continental influences. There are countless historical reminders of how close Japan, the Koreas and China really are. From the 2nd century AD, China demanded that Japan become a tribute state, and from the 4th century AD it was common for Japanese emperors to take Korean brides. Buddhism and kanji came through from China in the 6th century. During his Korean peninsula campaigns in 1592 and 1598 Toyotomi Hideyoshi abducted whole families of potters as growing interest in the tea ceremony generated desire for punch’ông (powder green) ceramics. The campaigns failed to secure the peninsula for Japan and the elusive entrée into China, but the firing techniques and glazes from the period live on in Japanese ceramics today. Up to 10% of Hiroshima bomb victims were Korean, and the Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea are the focus of constant public outcry and media attention.
Shimonoseki, closer to Seoul than to Tokyo, has always played a vital role in trade and cultural exchange. In 1895 it hosted a Chinese delegation, which, with their Japanese counterparts, took almost a month to sign the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty. In the 19th century 150 Christians from Nagasaki were sent to and imprisoned in Tsuwano, chosen for its inaccessibility. Hagi was home to 19th-century reformists who were instrumental in bringing about the Meiji Restoration.