The Tale of Uji
As a green tea maniac, I can't help but notice that almost all of the leading green tea brands in Japan come with a title “From Uji”. For those who don’t know, Uji is a town located in the South of Kyoto. It has a lot of charm in nature, history and of course, green tea! If you are already overwhelmed with temples and shrines in Kyoto, a day trip to Uji would be perfect for you.
You can try the taste of green tea as soon as you get out of Uji JR station. Crossing the street in front of the station, you will find "Nakamura Tokishi Honten", the famous green tea shop and restaurant. It is like a norm that every table orders a set of green tea buckwheat soba. Besides, if you are a sweet tooth, green tea jelly with red bean and mochi or green tea ice cream are perfect choice for you. As common for popular restaurants in Japan, be prepared to queue up for more than 45 minutes. Grabbing a shopping street guide and strolling around are a great way of waiting. You can taste samples of food and drink along the way as an appetizer. Besides many hundred-year-ish of green tea shop, Uji also has a lot of interesting local shops, cafes and restaurants to explore.
Photo: KUMI on Flickr
Let your stomach take a rest by walking to Uji River. The river is one of popular spots in Kyoto for Cherry blossom viewing. Who wouldn't like to hanami riverside with hundreds of sakura trees? Even in non-sakura season, the Uji River is still a good place to relax. Bridges, railway, tall stone pagoda and a small island in the center of the river create an eye-pleasing landscape for picnic and strolling.
Uji is also known as a key setting of the first novel in Japan and arguably the first in the world, "The Tale of Genji" whose last ten chapters take place in Uji. For those of you who are scared of reading 1000-page book like I do, I suggest that you get some help from The Tale of Genji Museum. Even there is not much English display but the museum offers a free English audio guide. There is also a 20-minute long movie "Hashi-Hime: The Depth of Women's Love", based on the last ten chapters which are known as 'Uji Chapters' (Spoiler alert, everyone!)
When your stomach is ready for another green tea treat, don't miss "Tsuen". It is located at the end of the bridge. This shop which is well-known as the first green tea shop in Japan and in the world has been serving premium-quality green tea since 1116. While you are enjoying a rich green tea parfait, the cafe offers a lovely view of the Uji River and Ujibashi, the oldest stone bridge of Japan.
Last but not least, if you are not bored of shrines and temple yet, you can visit Ujigami Shrine which is the oldest shrine in Japan (don't forget to buy a cute bunny lucky charm!) or Byodo-in Temple with its spectacular 'Phoenix Hall" (take a sneak peak at the back of ten yen coin).
Otherwise, you can just take a sip from you green tea cup while sitting aside the Uji River and thinking of one of the greatest tales in Japan instead.