Uji 宇治

When I was telling my friends of my plans I included that I had a free day in Osaka before the rest of my group met me. I planned to check into the hotel, or at least dump my stuff off in the lobby then grab lunch and maybe just relax and do something near the hotel before preparing myself for our whirlwind of shenanigans once everyone else arrived. However one friend piped up and said “You should go to Uji.” I hadn’t heard of Uji so I just sort of stared at her in confusion until she told me that Uji is home to matcha and the oldest tea house in Japan and is the second largest grower of tea in the country. Say no more, good bye resting day, hello Uji.

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Uji is in the Southern part of Kyoto. To get there from Osaka I took about three trains and it took about an hour and a half. There are two stations in Uji that are on either side of the Uji River. One of them is the JR station. I however got off at the other, 宇治駅, which was closer to the tea shop I wanted to visit. I was exhausted. Flying in from Sapporo where it’d been nice and cool but I hadn’t slept much, only to get slapped in the face by the heat of Osaka was weighing me down. I’d dumped my stuff off at the hotel learning I couldn’t check in until 3pm and it was barely even 11 had made going to Uji somewhat of a necessity. I had to kill time somehow, this seemed perfect. My first stop was tourist information in the train station at Uji to try and figure out if my map was right and that the tea shop was just outside. It was. They gave me a paper map and oh if it hadn’t been so hot and if I hadn’t been so tired then I would’ve happily spent so much more time exploring Uji.

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Statue of Murasaki Shikibu

I managed to do about three things in Uji, just due to utter exhaustion and dragging myself along through the heat to accomplish something. But there’s so much more to do. Uji is a setting for several novels including the oldest one— “Tales of Genji”—and there’s even a museum dedicated to the novel which is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am until 5 pm with last tickets sold at 4:30pm. Tickets are 500 yen. It’s located at 611-0021 45-26, Uji Higashiuchi, Uji, Kyoto Prefecture and if I’d had energy I would’ve loved to have seen it. While I didn’t make it to the museum I did walk past one of the statues of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of “Tales of Gengji”.

There are also several temples in the area I didn’t make it to, like Ujikami (宇治上神社 ) which is a World heritage site and is considered the oldest Shinto Shrine in Japan and Obakusan manpukuji temple which is a Chinese style temple and was built out of teak. That’s just a few, there are a lot of temples and shrines in the area. I only managed to visit one.

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Another thing you can do in Uji is watch Cormorant Fishing or Ukai 鵜飼 for 2,000yen (~$20). From July to September you can watch it on the Uji river around dusk. Cormorant Fishing is done with a person and several dozen cormorants on leashes. The birds collect fish from the water in a special pouch that they then spit out for the fisher. During the day you can take a boat around for a cruise, but a dusk you can catch the same boat for ukai. The show/ride takes about an hour. It starts (for Ukai/Cormorant Fishing) at 6:30pm.

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While in Uji you can also visit tea fields. Two companies, Obubu Tea Plantations and Shohokuen, are currently hosting tours of their fields and factories. Though it looks like that’s something that happens in May.  There’s also a tea museum and so many tea houses offering classes or just a nice moment to enjoy some local tea.  Really there’s plenty of things to do, just pop into the information booth at the station and ask for their recommendations. If you like history and tea or even “Tales of Genji” it’s well worth a visit.

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