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Uji Kyoto | World Heritage Sites and Green Tea Production

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Uji city is located in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, and it only takes about 30 minutes by train to get there from Kyoto station. It is a city rich in history and is often mentioned in old Japanese collections; the last 10 chapters or books of The Tale of Genji (written by a woman named Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century and considered the oldest Japanese novel) are set in Uji. There are 2 Unesco World Heritage sites: the Byodo-in temple and the Ujigami shrine. The city of Uji is also known for its production of green tea. The village is very pretty, and perfect for a day tour from Kyoto!

Byodo-in Temple (平等院)

Founded in 1052 by Fujiwarano Yorimichi, who was a regent at the time, in the area where his father’s villa Fujiwarano Michinaga was located. The symbol of this temple, the Phoenix Pavilion (Hou Ou Do, 鳳凰堂), and the garden that surrounds it transmit to us its beautiful structure from the time of its construction. The Palace of Paradise was taken as a model for the design of the Phoenix Pavilion.

The Phoenix Pavilion is famous, because it is depicted on Japan’s 10 yen coins, and the Phoenix on the roof of the pavilion is on the 10,000 yen banknotes. In the building next to the Phoenix Pavilion is the Hoshokan Museum which displays the treasures of the temple such as the bell, the Phoenixes, sculptures of the Hunchbacked deity, and so on. They date from the time of the temple’s construction and it is a small museum that is a must-visit.

Access: 15-minute walk from Uji JR station.
Entrance fee (museum + garden): 600 yen over 18 years old/400 yen college and high school students/300 yen school children
Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm

Ujigami Shrine (宇治上神社)

Starting from the Byodo-in Temple, on the other side of the Uji River, is the Ujigami shrine. We do not know its date of construction but the name of Ujigami jinja is already quoted in a collection dating from 927. It is a very simple and small sanctuary. This shrine mainly worships Ujino wara Iratsuko, the son of Emperor Ojin Tenno, who is supposed to have existed in the 5th century. Legend has it that this prince, a favorite of his father, committed suicide to give up the throne to his older brother, who became the 16th emperor.

After passing through the entrance portico, the oratory that was built at the beginning of the Kamakura period (12th century) appears. Behind the oratory is the Honden, the main building, built in the Heian period (794-1192) and considered the oldest construction of the shrine. In the name of “Ujino wara Iratsuko” you can find the character of the rabbit. In front of the shrine office, there are several rabbit trinkets in which a spell is found. You can get your spell by buying one of the trinkets.

Access: 10 min walk from the Byodo-in temple.
Entrance fee: Free
Opening hours: 9 am – 4.30 pm

The Museum of The Tale of Genji (源氏物語ミュージアム)

The Tale of Genji (源氏物語, Genji Monogatari) was written by Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部), a court lady of the Heian period in the 11th century. It is a very long novel composed of 54 chapters (books) that tell the life of one of the emperor’s sons, Genji. The latter is a handsome man, intelligent and loved by everyone and he had many love affairs with women. The last 10 books are called Uji jyu jo (宇治十帖, literally 10 books from Uji), and these stories take place mainly in Uji after Genji’s death. These last 10 books tell the stories of Genji’s son and grandson.

This small museum is the only museum on the Tale of Genji, and it shows some scenes from The Tale of Genji.

Access: 5-minute walk from Uji kami Jinja Shrine
Admission fee: Adults 600 yen/under 18 years old 300 yen
Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm, closed on Mondays

Tea from Uji (宇治茶)

The city of Uji is known for its production of green tea. Uji has been producing green tea since the 13th century. Its climate and topography are conducive to the production of good quality green tea, and there are many tea plantations in the area.

All along the way to Byodo-in Temple, you can smell the nice aroma of green tea. Many restaurants and cafes offer dishes and cakes with the flavor of green tea. There are also multiple places that offer green tea workshops during which you can pluck, grind, and drink your own cup of matcha tea.

My Personal Experience in Uji

I visited the city of Uji on Saturday, November 28, 2020. As I am a lover of The Tale of the Genji, I had wanted to visit Uji for a long time. This year, the change of maple leave colors in Kyoto was a bit early compared to previous years, so many maple leaves had already fallen on the ground but we were still able to admire some of the season’s last beautiful colors.

We arrived in Uji around 11 am and we first had lunch in a restaurant that served dishes using green tea. We ordered the wheat flour noodles (udon). The udon was served with tempura that was sprinkled with green tea salt.

When we arrived at Uji Bridge, I took pictures of the statue of the author of Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu, and then we went to the Byodo-in Temple. Unfortunately, as it was the high season, there was a 3-hour wait to visit the Phoenix Pavilion so we only visited the garden and its museum (to preserve the heritage, the number of visitors per day is limited). The Phoenix Pavilion is really imposing and magnificent like a phoenix beating its wings. The museum next door is small but exhibits several national treasures. I would definitely advise you to visit it.

Tale of Genji Museum

Then we crossed the Uji River (I thought the river was much smaller according to The Tale of Genji) and we arrived at the other side of the river. We rested in the coffee shop of Fukuju-en, one of the biggest green tea producers in Uji, and tasted Japanese pastry with a green tea flavor.

After this short break, we went to the Ujigami shrine. Rabbits are considered to be messengers of Shinto deity so in Uji Jinja Shrine there are several rabbit statuettes. On the way between the Ujigami shrine and Genji Shrine Museum, there are monuments on which the excerpts from the novel are inscribed and we can feel a little bit of the atmosphere of the Heian period.

Access: About 30 min by local JR train from Kyoto station

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