Although we can’t travel everywhere we want (yet), it doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming 😉. In fact, now it’s the best time to work on our bucket list, so when this whole Corona times will end we’ll have a list prepared with all the places we must visit.
For some reason, many people that visit Japan don’t put Uji on their list. As so many people have asked me for the less-touristic places around Kyoto, I noticed that Uji is not such a well-known place. Of course, there are many beautiful hidden spots in Kyoto city (that I might write about in future posts), but it’s always nice to visit a new place.
Since most people go to beautiful Nara for a day trip, and as you already know Hikone and Kobe, this time I will introduce Uji. This is one of my favorite places for a getaway from Kyoto.
Uji is very similar to Kyoto in its atmosphere: a wide river flows through it, traditional houses, and many temples. However, since it was never the capital of Japan, like Kyoto and Nara, it is less touristic. With this being said, it’s certainly not less beautiful nor interesting than the other two cities in question.
After traveling by train for only 40 minutes from Kyoto, you can safely spend the day there and come back to Kyoto in the evening. So join me on a journey to the magical city of Uji!
If you recognize the name Uji, it might be because of Uji-Matcha. Actually, the thing Uji is most famous for is having the best Matcha in Japan. In the land of Matcha – that’s a big thing! Because of that fact, in Uji you will find so many shops selling Matcha powder, cold Matcha drinks, ice-cream, sweets, and anything you can think of from that wonder-tea. You can walk along the narrow street of Byodoin Omotesando Road and enjoy a cup of tea or a souvenir from one of the shops selling it.
If you want to visit some of the well-known stores selling Matcha, you can start at the Itoh Kyuemon store. This company is a family-business that has been growing and producing Matcha since the Edo period. Family members continue to pass the knowledge and techniques of how to make the finest tea down through the generations. So you can enjoy the finest Matcha with knowledge acquired over a hundred years ago.
Another family-business Matcha company is Mitsuboshi-en. This company’s establishment goes even further back to the 16th century. In their shop, you can enjoy Matcha and local sweets, as well as participate in a Matcha making workshop to learn about the process.
If you’re really interested in a Matcha-making workshop but don’t have time to go to Uji, you can do it here in Kyoto. It’s a really nice cultural experience you should try while in Japan.
Shrines and temples
One of the most famous places in Uji, just after Omotesando, is Byodō-In Temple. Belonging to the Jodō sect of Buddhism, this temple represents The Pure Land, the place we’ll go after we die. I have to say – it does look like heaven! If you think you have seen the beautiful main structure somewhere before – you’re absolutely right. The iconic structure is what you see on the 10 yen coin. Besides that, you can enjoy the temple’s museum, showing remarkable sculptures, painted scrolls, and historical items that have survived for centuries.
If you happen to be in Uji in May or June, try looking for the beautiful Ajisai flowers (their English name is Hydrangea Macrophylla, but I prefer Ajisai 😉). The most recommended temple to go to while it blooms is Mimuroto Temple. It’s not a big temple, and I really liked the fact that most visitors were local. I came on the weekend and it really wasn’t so bad for a peak season.
Some other smaller shrines you can stop by are Uji Shrine and Ujigami Shrine. Another recommended temple is Kōshō-Ji, which has beautiful gardens. You can walk from one to the other – it’s a relatively short distance. The road connecting these places is covered with high shading trees, flat old stones, and sturdy jinrikishas.
You could also start your journey at Mimuroto Temple and then cross The Uji river towards Byodō-In. If it’s a hot day I definitely recommend putting your legs in the water – it’s so refreshing!
The Tale of Genji Museum
A really cool, yet small museum! If you’re not familiar with The Tale of Genji – no worries. That’s what I’m here for 😃. It’s a 54 chapter novel, written in the 11th century by a noblewoman named Murasaki Shikibu.
As the novel’s hero is Prince Genji (a made-up role), the story takes us back centuries to the life of the Heian Period (794-1185 AD) courtiers. When women wore twelve layer kimonos and noblemen wrote poems after playing incense games.
I loved the museum for the diversity in its exhibits: an anime movie about the author and main role, interactive screens, ready-to-smell incense ingredients, and rooms that really take you back in time to the Heian period. I used the translation tablet I borrowed for free from the reception – and it explained every detail in English.
If you want to spend an hour learning more about this novel and Japan around those times, I highly recommend going to this museum.
Frankly speaking, there aren’t so many options in Uji. Still, there is one place I really recommend.
If you take the Keihan train, you can stop at Kohata Station, walk a few minutes and arrive at Eplesu – a vegan bakery! You heard it right.
Do not raise your expectations too high, this is a very tiny shop. However, everything is homemade, and the owner only uses unrefined sugar. The shop is only open from Thursday to Sunday, and even then, remembering it’s a small business, you better call before coming, as I wrote here.
Now you know everything you need to know about Uji – it’s the time to mark it in your bucket list map and plan your trip there! It will make a beautiful day-trip from Kyoto.
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