10 Best Things To Do in Uji: Kyoto’s Matcha Town

Places to visit in Kyoto
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Misty Fujii is a Canadian who moved to Osaka, Japan in 2019 and married her Japanese sweetheart. In 2022 they had a baby and moved to Fukui for the clean country air. She is a DJ who teaches English part time and writes in order to share Japan with the world. She gets excited about collecting vintage vinyl records, food of all countries, travelling and renovating her traditional Japanese house.

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Uji is a pint-sized powerhouse of culture and flavor, housed between the historical heavyweights of Kyoto City and Nara. Don’t be fooled by its size; this city packs a punch with shrines, temples, and a legacy that stretches back to the 10th century. In fact, Uji is a city of firsts! Home to the world’s first novel, tea house, and even one of Japan’s oldest bridges, the sense of history and tradition is all around. 

And, of course, there’s the tea! Uji is where tea leaves are pampered with shade and handpicked to concoct a legendary flavor. Uji is only a 20-minute train ride from Kyoto City and is packed with things to see, do, and taste. 

See where history meets matcha. We’re here to uncover the 10 best things to do in Uji. Let’s go!

1. Byodoin Temple

Architecture and history shine at Byodoin Temple, an absolute beauty that’s been turning heads since 998. You can’t miss the show-stopping highlight, Phoenix Hall, the legendary building on the ten yen coin! The temple has been through its fair share of fires and disasters. Still, like a phoenix always rises, the temple does too and is one of the last-standing relics from the Heian Period

Inside, you’ll find a statue of the Amida Buddha, a treasure trove of cultural gems hiding underground with important cultural properties and national treasures, and juicy tidbits about Byodoin’s past. Get ready to uncover the secrets of this architectural marvel! 

2. Tsuen-chaya Tea Shop

Miya.m, (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Step back in time at Tsuen Tea, where history is served in every cup. Established in 1160, this place isn’t just old; it’s ancient! This is actually considered to be the oldest tea shop in the world. Visiting is like stepping into a time machine where you can drink tea where legendary figures like warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and samurai extraordinaire Miyamoto Musashi used to. With its classic interior, including antique tea jars and a traditional kitchen well, Tsuen-chaya Tea Shop’s got old-world charm that’s as timeless as its tea. 

And speaking of tea, they’ve got the goods from matcha that’ll make your taste buds dance to sencha, like a green tea hug in a cup. So, why sip your tea elsewhere when you can steep yourself in history here? 

Difference engine, (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

3. Uji Bridge

Uji Bridge is a portal to the past! Built way back in the year 646, this bridge is a history buff’s dream. It’s not just old; it’s “one-of-the-three-oldest-bridges-in-Japan” old. Destroyed, rebuilt, and reborn, the current design, dating back to 1996, still pays homage to its roots with Japanese cypress and a splash of bronze. But Uji Bridge isn’t just a collection of wood and metal; it’s a character in Japan’s history and literature tales. 

It’s where Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the tea-loving warlord, once fetched water for a ceremony, and it’s starred in everything from woodblock prints to anime. Then there’s cherry blossom season, where over 2,000 sakura trees line the riverbank, turning this spot into a pink paradise. Uji Bridge is the spot if you want a link to the past. 

4. The Tale of Genji Museum

663highland, (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Step into a literary time capsule at The Tale of Genji Museum, where the world’s first novel comes to life with a splash of 11th-century flair. It’s like walking straight into the pages of Murasaki Shikibu’s masterpiece! Here, projected images, models, and exhibitions take you on a journey through the Imperial Court of the Heian period, complete with the flashy outfits of aristocrats and the opulent furnishings of their homes. 

This immersive experience happens right where it all unfolds in the story, the stage for Genji’s adventures. Get ready for a full-sized oxcart, a model of Hikaru Genji’s chic residence, and even a peek through a window into the past. Plus, they’ve got original films and animated movies that’ll transport you straight into the heart of Genji’s world. So, if you’re a bookworm who thirsts for history, this museum is your literary playground. 

5. Ujigami and Uji Shrine

Behold, the ancient sentinels of Uji! Ujigami Shrine and Uji Shrine are a dynamic duo of Japanese history. Ujigami Shrine, often touted as the oldest standing shrine in Japan, boasts a lineage stretching back to 1060 as we know it. This sacred spot served as the trusted “guardian shrine” for Byodoin Temple and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Check out the nagare-zukuri architectural style, curved and asymmetrical, like an architectural masterpiece.

Just a stone’s throw away stands Uji Shrine, its sibling from another era. When samurai roamed, and emperors ruled in the Heian Period, this shrine was known as the Yawata-miya Imperial Villa. Inside its hallowed halls, you’ll find Uji-no-Waki-iratsuko, the emperor’s offspring, guarding the realm. And let’s not forget the wooden guardian dogs and Noh masks that add that extra cultural oomph. 

6. Try Interesting Matcha Flavored Foods

Ok, tea lovers! Chances are a love of green tea is one of the things that draws you to Uji. All the sightseeing will be sure to stir up an appetite and a thirst that screams for one thing: matcha. Lucky for you, Uji’s got matcha-infused goodies galore! For the real deal, make a beeline to Byodoin Omotesando shopping street.

Sure, the matcha soft serve here is the stuff of dreams, but what sets Uji apart are the matcha-infused wonders that are a tad less common. Amidst the usual sweet suspects, you’ll uncover savory delights. Green tea soba, ramen, curry, gyoza, beer, liquor, and more, kissed with the highest grade, slightly bitter matcha. So, what’s your matcha-infused dream dish? Find it in Uji!

7. Fukujuen Uji Tea Factory

When in Uji, you must visit the Fukujuen Uji Tea Factory! Established in 1790, this is the birthplace of top-notch Uji tea, known far and wide for its unique flavor and aroma. You’ll find a tea wonderland at Fukujuen Cha Experience Park within the factory. It’s like a theme park for tea, where you can dive deep into centuries of traditions from across the globe. Get hands-on with rolling tea or grinding your matcha with a stone mortar. Feeling artsy? Try making an Asahiyaki pottery bowl or painting some pottery. It’s like a crash course in tea-making and everything else connected to it.

And when you’re done tinkering, head to the serene tea room for a cup! They offer classes in tea and sencha tea ceremonies, a chance to learn more about Japanese tea culture. Plus, they host tastings and demonstrations. The pièce de résistance? Sampling a range of Fukujuen’s teas, including their signature Uji tea. Pair it with matcha ice cream parfaits or ochazuke gozen (tea-flavored eats), and you’re living the tea lover’s dream.

8. Nakamura Tokichi Honten

RCJ00, (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Nakamura Tokichi Honten has been dishing out legendary matcha treats since 1854. While they’ve got a trio of stores in Kyoto Prefecture, the original (and best!) is the Nakamura Tokichi Uji’s head shop, a sweet tooth’s paradise. The store’s not just about sweets though; it’s a cultural gem with an ancient pine tree, the Horaifuna-Matsu, in its garden. The view is unbeatable from the open terrace, once a tea factory.

But back to the goodies! Their tea jellies, in matcha and hojicha flavors, are next-level goodness. Crafted from Nakamura Tokichi’s secret recipe, they’re like yummy dreams in jelly form. Top it off with ice cream and traditional toppings; all served in a swanky bamboo cup unique to the Uji main store. It’s a dessert fit for your Instagram feed! 

9. Koshoji Temple

663highland, (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Koshoji Temple is the new temple in town, kind of. First built in 1233 in Kyoto City, the temple got a change of scenery and moved to Uji in 1648. Now, it’s got a serene garden with a five-story stone pagoda and trees so perfectly pruned they could pass as Zen sculptures. Officially, it goes by “Buttokuzan Kannon Dori-in Kosho Horin Zenji” and is Japan’s first Zen temple! The temple grounds are a Shichido Garan-style masterpiece with seven halls of history and a tranquil vibe. 

10. Daikichiyama Observation Deck

Cap off your visit with a jaw-dropping view! After 20 minutes or so of a scenic hike, you’ll reach the Daikichiyama Observation Deck. The trail’s a lush green haven, making for a gorgeous walk. When you hit the peak, prepare to be dazzled. It’s a 360-degree visual feast, with Byodoin Temple, the winding Ujigawa River, Nakanoshima, and the charming town of Uji all laid out before you. Whether you’re a hiking enthusiast or just a sucker for stunning vistas, this spot’s a must-visit. 

With so many spots to tick off any history or tea lover’s list, where will you start your journey through Uji?

Japan Wonder Travel Tours 

Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan. 
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots! 
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if yu have any questions or need some help! 

Tokyo Fish Market Tour @Tsukiji – Enjoy Local Food and Drink
Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo and try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake with one of our friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guides! 

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Tokyo 1–Day Highlights Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
There’s no better way to explore an area than taking a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You will have the chance to learn about the history and interesting background stories of Tokyo, as well as discover some hidden gems which can be hard to do without a guide.

Asakusa Tokyo private tour

Mt. Fuji Day Trip Bus Tour from Tokyo
Experience the breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji by visiting the highlights of the area on our guided sightseeing bus tour! Departing from Shinjuku in central Tokyo, you can travel comfortably to all of the best spots in the area by bus.

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