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Uji is a beautiful and culturally significant town that I would highly recommend visiting. Located a 30 mins train ride south-east of Kyoto city, it’s a great day out.
Uji is known as the tea capital of Japan, and most of the finest Japanese tea comes from Uji, including the very trendy Matcha. Take a walk down Byodoin Omotesando and your olfactory senses will be pleasantly overpowered with the incredible and delicious aroma of tea leaves being cooked and prepared.
►How to get there: JR Nara line from Kyoto station. Ask the station staff from other stations. Having a Japan Rail Pass will make travel on JR trains cheaper and much more efficient. Click here or on the ad below to buy from the official vendor.
Uji is home to Byōdō-in temple. A stunning and almost mythical looking temple built in the Heian period. The main Phoenix hall is the most beautiful part of the temple and will provide you with many amazing selfies and Instagram photos! The temple was originally built as a villa for a high ranking minister, Minamoto no Shigenobu. When he died, his wife sold the property to one of the more powerful members of the Fujiwara clan, and then it was turned into the temple that it is today.
If you have a 10 yen coin in your pocket, whack it out and on one side you'll see the Phoenix hall.
There is a temple museum on the grounds showing amazing Buddhist history as well as the Chinese influence of architecture and culture.
►Admission to Byōdō-in-in temple- 600 yen.
Ujigami-Jinja (shrine) is believed to be one of the oldest original standing wooden structures in Japan. Ujigami shrine was originally built as a guardian or protector shrine to Byōdō-in and in 1994, was registered as UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. It is located on the opposite side of the Ujigawa (Uji River).
Byodoin Omotesando is a little street that approaches Byodoin temple. You will know you are there by the intense and beautiful aroma of baked tea leaves, mainly green tea. Most of the shops on Byodoin Omotesando are tea shops that often bake the tea leaves in the entrance of the shops. Hence the incredible smell. Uji has a very important history of tea. During the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), the powerful Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu promoted tea cultivation in Uji, and since then it has been one of the main producers of superior quality green tea in Japan. Many say that Uji was, in fact, the origin of Japanese green tea. On top of this, there is a tea shop that is believed to be the oldest tea shop in the world in Uji…(read below)
Tsuen tea shop is believed to be the oldest tea shop in the world. Serving green tea and other Uji teas from 1160, and is still being run and operated by the 24th generation of the Tsuen family. I highly recommend coming here. Everything they serve...the noodles, tea, savouries and sweet desserts and parfaits all have special Uji tea in it. By visiting Tsuen tea, you are experiencing the oldest and probably one of the original tea houses in Japan and probably the world. A number of very high profile guests used to frequent Tsuen tea, including Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Daimyo and Military Samurai General, often named as Japan’s second great unifier) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (A powerful Shogun and Japan’s third great unifier).
Tsuen tea shop is located by one end of Uji-bashi bridge.
Summer soba. Soba is a cold noodle dish that is great in the summer heat. The soba is made from Uji green tea!
Just past the Ujigami shrine, there is a little mountain path that leads up to the Daikichi Yama, which is a mountain/hill that looks over Uji. There is a little observation deck at the top of the hill where you have incredible views over Uji and on a clear day, some parts of Kyoto. As I am weird and like off the beaten path/alternative adventures, my friend and I adventured up there late at night. But we were rewarded with an incredible view over Uji with its nighttime lights. It’s a pretty spooky walk up the mountain at night but it’s also pretty fun, and the night view over Uji is stunning.
On the little man-made island Tachibanajima, which is very close to Byodoin on the river, there is a curious 13 stone pagoda which happens to be the tallest in Japan. It was built in the late Kamakura period (1185–1333) by a Monk named Eison, from Nara, in order to pray for the souls of the fish.
For about a week/10 days during the month of August, Specialised fishermen and women use Cormorants (a bird) to fish from the Uji river. It’s an amazing spectacle as you can witness great cooperation between human and animal. Although having said that, I don’t think the Cormorant have a choice as they are made to regurgitate the fish. However, the process is fascinating. A lady will sing/ make vocals to entice the birds into fishing. One person will bash the size of the boat and another person will tend to the large cage which holds a fire that is hung over the water to illuminate the area so that the birds and see the fish. The most impressive aspect is how the Cormorants actually catch the fish, especially in the dark!
►You can buy tickets and actually get onto the spectator boats which serve food. These tickets are around 2000 yen per person.
Cormorants in their cages ready for the evening fishing. Something slightly cruel about this but oh well, it's 'traditional'