Nicknamed the little sister of Kyoto, Uji is located just south of this ancient Capital of Japan. There are many reasons to include Uji in your tour of West Japan, but the ancient city is certainly mandatory for green tea lovers as it is the hometown of the finest matcha you can find – and bonus, the sightseeing list is endless!
A Tea Tradition Dating Back to the 12th Century
More than 800 years ago, when Japanese monk Zen Eisai brought back the very first tea plant seeds from China to Japan, he unexpectedly convinced the local farmers to start growing them… marking the beginning of a tradition that swept the world.
Now consumed everywhere, Japanese tea is well-known for its health benefits but also its delicate and unique taste, and its many different forms. You can get try sencha, kocha, matcha and even mugicha!
Often, a meal is accompanied with tea instead of water in Japan, and it might surprise you, but you will find that it goes extremely well with Japanese cuisine, and it often helps to warm you up or refresh you when needed.
Going back to Kyoto, that is often referred to as the capital of matcha tea but don’t be mistaken: the magic happens in Uji. The misconception might come from the proximity between the two cities, as Uji is only around 16 kilometres from Kyoto station and takes about 30 minutes by train, a trip that is covered by the JR Pass by the way. It’s the perfect one-day trip when staying in Kyoto for those wanting to explore the culture of Japanese tea!
But why is tea so good in Uji, you might ask? According to the official website of Tea in Uji, the good soil and specific topography of the location created the perfect conditions to grow these plants and create a selection of divine green teas. Uji is known for its matcha, but you can also find various teas such as high quality gyokuro or sencha when visiting the city, they also make the perfect souvenirs for friends and family back home.
Experiencing Tea Culture in Uji
Is there a better place to experiment a traditional tea ceremony than Uji? We highly doubt it. Loaded with history, high quality tea, beautiful places… Uji is the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of matcha prepared by licensed professionals. Not only can you experience a Japanese tea ceremony in its birthplace, but you will also immerse yourself in Japanese culture thanks to traditional settings, tea masters dressed in kimonos and of course, the traditional sweets to balance the taste of matcha during your tasting session.
We recommend you pick a place that provides insights into the tea ceremony during the proceedings, allowing yourself to fully comprehend the heritage that goes behind what cannot be called a simple “tea tasting.” Highly codified, with specific gestures and dialogs, the Japanese tea ceremony will be a welcome pause during your travels and a perfect way to take a glimpse at the meditation and calmness that inhabit Japan.
And if you love tea, don’t stop there, head to Omotesando Street to taste every variation of green tea flavoured food you could imagine; ice-cream, noodles, dango or even donuts. You name it! Omotesando is also the perfect place to buy souvenirs of the green tea city.
Hold On, There Is More to Uji than Tea…
Tightly entwined to the tea history, the history with a capital H is majestic too in Uji. Continue along Omotesando Street to encounter Byodo-in.
This temple is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is renowned for its Phoenix Hall (or Amida Hall), a magnificent Amida statue and many other national treasures in display inside the temple. Even though there are numerous temples or sanctuaries to visit in Uji, we would definitely recommend putting Byodo-in at the top of your list for its beautiful Buddhist architecture. As with many temples, it was destroyed by various hazards over the years, but they did an excellent job a renovating it and it’s definitely a sight to see.
Did you know that the very first novel of the world was Japanese? The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu is considered the first work of fiction ever written and some of its romantic endeavours actually happen in… Uji! The Ukifune and Prince Niou-no-Miya, and Murasaki Shikibu statues are tributes to this classic, but you will also find a museum dedicated to the entire novel, with a focus on what is called the “Uji chapters” which take place in the city.
Another traditional experience you could try in Uji may be highly surprising: a fishing technique using cormorant and called Ukai. It has been used for more than 1,000 years in Japan, but you can still witness it on a viewing boat specially designed for the experience, as well as the close relationship the cormorant masters and birds share. Uji is not the only place where you can experience Ukai but there are few places in Japan that still conduct this tradition for tourists to see, it would be a shame to miss it! Be careful when planning though, as they don’t happen all year-round and tickets go fast.
Have You Decided, Going to Uji?
We have to be honest; you only had a glimpse on everything you can do in Uji today. As we told you, the city is heavy with historic, cultural and culinary heritage with a lot to see and experience there. Don’t hesitate to contact us and speak with a consultant to create your perfect Uji escape, or you can take a look at our special Uji tea tour excursion which includes a traditional tea ceremony and a visit to Byodo-in. Meanwhile, it’s time for a cup of tea!
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