Two of Uji's historic monuments, Byōdō-in Buddhist temple and Ujigami Shinto Shrine, have been inscribed as World Heritage sites as part of "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)".
Uji City Tourist Information Centeraddress: 2 Tokawa UjiTourist information center next to the Byōdō-in Temple. This is also were you can sign up for the tea ceremony next door.
address: Uji JR stationTourist information center next to the JR station.
The is on the other side of the river, but is slightly closer to most of the sights. This line can be a good alternative if you are planning a day trip from Osaka and don't have a JR pass. Trains from Osaka take around 55 minutes for ¥410 with one change in Chushojima. However, Keihan railways have a special Kyoto-Osaka sightseeing pass (¥700/1000 for 1/2 days) giving unlimited rides, which is cheaper than a return ticket and allows you to also travel to Kyoto.
Most of the sights are a short walk from either of the stations. Most of the sights are along the river on either shore. Everything is quite compact and it is easily possible to cover everything in one day by just strolling along the river. You will probably not need a map, but if you want one, they are available at either of the tourist offices.
Byōdō-in TempleThe Byōdō-in was built by Fujiwara Yorimichi, the Chief Adviser to the Emperor, in 1053. It was built as a rural villa owned by his father. Yorimichi built the temple in response to the prevalent fear that a dark age was about to dawn, and Buddhism would soon disappear. The main statue of the Phoenix Hall (鳳凰堂 Hōō-dō) represents the Buddha Amida (Amitabha); many people turned to it for refuge from the present and future, and this gave rise to the Pure Land Faith movement of Buddhism. Battles and fires took their toll on Byōdō-in over several hundred years, but a fire during the Edo period proved devastating. Only the Hōō-dō survived intact, protected by a pond. For a quick preview of what you'll see, check your pockets: the Hōō-dō is the temple on the ¥10 coin. The entrance fee also covers the temple's museum, which contains a variety of historical artifacts from the temple. The video and displays are all translated into English, so foreign visitors can easily appreciate the museum artifacts. If you choose to enter to the Phoenix Hall, it costs extra, and you can only enter as a tour (aka: you can't just walk in and out on your own). The tours run every 20 minutes and are limited to 50 people. No photos are allowed inside the Hall, and the tour is only in Japanese, although a written English transcript is provided. Inside, you will see the Buddha statue up close. Don't forget to look at the artwork behind you and on the side walls. An interesting fact that you won't hear on the tour is that in the early 20th century, the Byōdō-in was actually used by many local homeless as a temporary home. They tell visitors that all of the fading just happened over time, but you'll notice the artwork is completely gone on the bottom. This is because the homeless who lived here often wrote graffiti on the walls, so the original artwork was lost, even after the homeless were forced out and restoration was attempted. If you want to see the interior of the Hōō-dō, arrive well in advance of the last tour (4:10PM). Byōdō-in is a World Heritage site.
Ujigami ShrineThis modest little shrine is another one of Uji's historic monuments recognized as a World Heritage site. It's said to be the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan and was built to console the soul of Prince Uji no Wakiiratsuko, who committed suicide in the Uji River.
Uji ShrineThe Uji shrine and the Ujigami shrine next door used to be part of the same complex, then known as Rikyukamisha. An interesting feature is the rabbit sculpture, which is said to have prevented the deity from getting lost.
address: 45-26 Uji, HigashiuchiIt's across the river from Byōdō-in, near Ujigami Shrine and the Keihan Uji station. The latter third of the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji took place in Uji, and there are statues sprinkled throughout the city to commemorate that. It all reaches a crescendo at the Tale of Genji Museum. There are English audio guides available to use for a self-guided tour to help you better understand the exhibits, as well as the video. Those familiar with the story will probably appreciate the museum, and perhaps the city itself much better.
Kōshō-ji TempleA Zen temple that features a long, justly-famous tree-covered approach from the river. It's a lovely walk in the autumn. Kosho-ji is a working temple, so while visitors can walk the grounds, the temple buildings themselves are frequently in use. Keep quiet while you're there; zen chants hang in the air in the late afternoon.
Mimuroto-ji TempleOne of the settings of the Tale of Genji, as well as the 10th temple along the Saigoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage Route. This temple will be of high interest to those who love flowers and gardens. Around the temple, lotus flowers have been planted in pots. Within the entire temple complex however, there are thousands of hydrangea, rhododendron, and azaleas all over the mountainside, and there are paths throughout the garden, so you can enjoy the flowers as you walk among them. The best time to see the flowers are from mid-May to July.
Mampuku-ji TempleThis is the head temple of the Japanese Ōbaku Zen sect, which is considered to be more Chinese than the other two sects (Rinzai and Soto). You can see the Chinese influences in the architecture, as the roofs were built in the Ming Dynasty style.
Amagase DamThis dam is south of the city. A scenic walkway leads there from Uji either shore of the river and the dam itself offers nice views.
- Uji being famous for tea, this is the perfect place to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony:
address: 1-5 TogawaThis tea house, operated by the town of Uji, is located along the river close to the Byodo-in temple. The tea ceremony is hold in a traditional Japanese building with tatami and table seating. The tea on offer is either Sencha or Matcha, however you don't get to chose, it is whichever is on offer that day. You can buy tickets in the tourist information office right next to the tea house.
Tearoom Zuishō-an at Nakamura Tokichi Hontenphone: +81 774-22-7800address: 10 Uji IchibanThis is a more expensive option for a tea ceremony, however it is also longer. The program includes grinding the matcha powder as well as the tea ceremony with two kinds of matcha (koicha and usucha). The tearoom is located at the back of the Nakamura Tokichi main store.
Mt. ButtokoOffers a decent hike with an observatory at the top for views of the area.
The Sankyū-an (三休庵) shopping street, leading from the Uji Bridge toward Byodo-in, features several old stores with the city's famous tea and pottery.
Local specialties centre around green tea (naturally) and Kyoto cuisine. Some of what you'll find in town:
- Cha-soba made by mixing green tea with regular soba noodles. There are also cha-udon restaurants.
- Green-tea flavoured ice cream, including the ubiquitous soft-serve cones.
- Green-tea flavoured dango, often served as the sweet included with matcha service.
- Kyoto cuisine, including yuba, kaiseki-ryori, etc.
Places to eat:
A map of restaurants and shops can be obtained from the tourism information centre near Byodo-in.
- Rengecha-yo is near the front gate of Byodo-in, near the end of Renge, Uji's main shopping street. No English is spoken by the staff, but English menus are available. Despite having two floors, it gets crowded in the early afternoon; as a result, the wait can be a bit long, but the food is excellent. Expect to pay ¥700 for a bowl of noodles with some tempura, ¥1500 for a filling set with a variety of noodles and tempura, and ¥3400 for a seafood blowout set.
- There is an excellent noodle shop directly across from the JR Uji station. (Look for the flashing light in front) It is both cheap and tasty. Try the "champon".
phone: +81 774-22-9500address: 5-1 UjirengeGreen tea and macha desserts. This cafe is located at the river front. There is another bigger cafe and shop near the JR rail station.
phone: +81 774-21-2126address: Tounoshima-maeA beautifully-appointed ryokan with views of the Uji river, both from the rooms and the sauna upstairs.
phone: +81 774-21-2181address: 27-2, Uji-TounokawaAnother ryokan with views of the Uji River and two public baths. Japanese and Western style rooms are available.
- Kyoto and Nara are a short trip in either direction; most visitors will have arrived from one or the other.
- Otsu If you are hungry for more Tale of Genji locations, visit Ishiyama-dera temple, where the book was written.
- Ise is only a couple hours away; it's home to the eponymous Ise Shrine, possibly the holiest and most important Shinto site.
- Osaka isn't far away if all of this classical atmosphere has you thirsting for a healthy dose of noise, neon and ferroconcrete.