Many international travelers are familiar with the Japanese cities of Kyoto and Nara, famous for being former capitals of the nation. As such, they were also cultural centers. However, where you aware of another richly historic and cultural town nearby?
Uji is located between Kyoto and Nara, Japan’s former capital cities. During the 1100s, it became known for the superior quality of its green tea; it is said that Uji is the location in which tea cultivation began. The town is also home to rustic temples, including the oldest Japanese shrine still in existence.
Connect with the past and Japan’s unique culture on your next visit to Uji. This guide will show you how.
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How to get to Uji
Your Japan Rail Pass makes traveling simple and affordable. Using your pass, you can reach Uji from the following major cities by making a short stop in Kyoto Station.
From Kyoto to Uji
From Kyoto Station, take either the rapid or local train on the JR Nara Line to Uji Station. The stations are located close to one another, and the trip lasts only 20 to 30 minutes, making Uji a great option for a day trip from Kyoto.
From Osaka to Uji
From either Osaka Station or Shin-Osaka Station, take the JR Kyoto Line to Kyoto Station, then transfer to the JR Nara Line to Uji Station.
From Tokyo to Uji
From Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line to Kyoto Station. In Kyoto, transfer to the Nara Line to Uji Station. Your journey will last around three hours. You may also wish to see a few of the sights in Kyoto while there. Due to the proximity of the two cities, you may wish to return to Kyoto after exploring Uji.
Alternatively, you may depart from either the Kyobashi or Yodoyabashi Stations. Take the Keihan line to Uji Station, a trip of about 1 hour. Because this line also connects Osaka and Kyoto, consider spending time in Uji when traveling between these cities. This route, however, is not covered by the JR Pass.
Getting around Uji
Because of the close proximity of most of its sites of interest, Uji is a good city to tour on foot. Uji Station, for example, is a mere ten minute walk from the Byodoin Temple. The more distant temples are located about a 30 minute walk from the city center. Local buses are also available, with routes that include both the attractions and the train station.
Things to do in Uji
The Byodo-in Temple is the most popular attraction in Uji. It is constructed in Jodo, or “Buddhist pure land architecture,” thus representing paradise. The temple is ancient, having been built as a private residence for a politician in the year 998; it was converted in to a temple by the founder’s son. Byodoin features a garden, treasure house museum, and the Hoodo, or Phoenix Hall, which appears on the back of the ten yen coin. This hall is one of the few completely original temple structures, never having been destroyed by fire as other buildings were.
Other temples and attractions
A number of other temples are located in Uji as well. The Koshoji Temple was built in Kyoto in 1233, and moved to Uji in 1648. It is a site of koyo, or autumn leaf viewing. The Mimurotoji, or “flower temple,” is located in the hills north of the city. It was constructed around 1,200 years ago. Finally, the Ujigamai Shrine, a “guardian shrine,” is thought to be the oldest extant shrine in Japan, having been built around 1060. This shrine was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Uji is split in two by the Ujigawa River, allowing for unique recreational opportunities. During the summer months, travelers can experience Ukai, or cormorant fishing. This skill has been practiced in Japan for more than 1300 years and involves using a trained bird called a cormorant to catch fish. River cruises are also available.
Bookworms will enjoy the city’s relationship to the Tale of Genji, a fictional work from the eleventh century. Often called the world’s first novel, the book describes royal life at that time. It is celebrated at the Tale of Genji Museum. Many locations around Uji are mentioned in the book, and these are marked by monuments. One such location is the Uji Bridge, originally built in 646.
Uji green tea
A trip to Uji could not be complete without sampling its famous matcha, Japanese green tea. Taihoan is a public tea house in which guests can experience a traditional tea ceremony. The nearby Fukujuen Ujicha Kobo workshop features hands-on tea grinding classes, followed by a tasting of the tea just produced. Tea and souvenirs can be purchased at the Omotesando, the shop-lined approach to Byodoin Temple.
You are certain to be charmed by historic Uji on your next Japanese vacation. Make sure to take this opportunity and don’t miss other interesting day trips from Kyoto.