How to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto
When you travel to Kyoto, and want to experience a little of rural Japan, then head to the historically romantic city of Uji, a little gem located just twenty-minutes train ride to the south of Kyoto city. This nature filled area is home to beautiful museums, historic buildings and delicious matcha tea. You can spend either half a day or one full day exploring this beautiful ancient city. However, I shall strongly recommend that you make it a one-day visit as Uji is a destination worth visiting and spending time at.
This article gives a little background to the city of Uji and cover details on how to to make the best of one day in Uji, Kyoto. The article suggests a carefully planned itinerary and a walking route. This ideal itinerary include the 7 most popular attractions at this little gem of tourist destination which must be seen for a complete experience of Uji. An early start arriving at about 10:00 a.m should also be in the plan.
Georgina says: My itinerary here involves spending one full day in Uji, returning to Kyoto in time for supper. However, if you don’t have a full day to spare, you may want to make half-a-day trip to Uji.
About Uji, Kyoto
Uji is a historical city in the green valley of South Kyoto. It is popular for its shrines and temples in particular for its two World Heritage sites, the Byodoin Temple and the Ujigami shrine. In addition, Uji is famous for the superior quality of Matcha Green Tea and the Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel. The City has a bridge and a river named after it. A walk along this river affords you picturesque views of the mountains surrounding it, with some regarding it as one of the most romantic places in Kyoto because of its prominence in the Tale of Genji.
Uji City is easily accessible (see below: Travel tips and useful information), just a 20-minute train journey from Kyoto Station, either via the JR Line or the Keihan Line. I used the Keihan Line from Kyoto, arriving at Uji for 10:00 a.m.
As you exit the Keihan Uji Station, you will find easy signposting that directs you to the surrounding areas. A landmark to lookout for is the Ujibashi Bridge across the Uji River.
Uji-bashi Bridge and Uji River
Just south of Keihan Uji Station, you will see the Uji-bashi Bridge, which goes across the Uji River. This wood-trimmed concrete and steel was first built in 646 AD. However, it has been rebuilt numerous times since. Walk across it, and along the way, stop and look at the green hills, rushing waters and the red wooden bridges. This ancient town is well-preserved.
The Uji-bashi Bridge is an important point because it is from here that you will access the rest of the 7 top attractions.
7 top attractions in Uji, Kyoto not to be missed | How to make the best of 1 day
The 7 top attractions in Uji which should not be missed are listed below. I have listed them in the order of my walking route so you can have an idea of what to expect when you visit and are considering how to make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto.
Across the Uji-bashi Bridge, you will come to Omotesando Street.
1 | Omotesando Street (平等院表参道), Uji, Kyoto
The Omotesando Street is about 300-meter stretch approach to Byodoin Temple (more on this temple, below). This street is lined with tea shops, eateries and souvenir shops. It is famously known as the Green Tea Street of Uji. Spend some time exploring this quaint street either on your way to Byodoin Temple or on your return.
There are many tea related products which you can try such as “dango” dumplings, soba noodles or ice-cream.
Loose matcha tea stored in airtight wooden boxes
Matcha tea sold in small packaging as samples
Matcha sprinkled on crushed ice.
Georgina suggests: That you explore the Omotesando street on your return walk back from Byodoin Temple. This means you can take a break for a snack or lunch before you are onward to the next stage of your journey.
2 | Byōdōin Temple (平等院), Uji, Kyoto
Byōdōin Temple is one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Uji and its garden is regarded as Pure Land Paradise.
Once you have bought your entry ticket, take the path on the left, around the lotus pond and this is what you come to …
This 10th century Buddhist Temple was initially built in 998, at the height of political power of the Fujiwara clan during the Heian period (794 to 1192). It was built as a retreat villa for Fujiwara no Michinaga, a powerful politician. The architecture of this temple is spectacularly beautiful and speaks volume.
However, Michinaga’s son, Yorimichi, turned it into a Temple and ordered the construction of the Phoenix Hall which was built in 1053. The building holds a central hall, two long corridors and is home to a three-meter high statue of Amida Buddha.
Amida Buddha is a wooden statue, covered in gold foil, carved by Jocho Busshi, a Heian period sculptor. His speciality was to join multiple pieces of blocks of wood to carve and join it to form a single piece or figure.
What remains today of this temple is this Phoenix Hall which is home to the soaring shining statue in the midst of heavenly beings playing instruments…it is a treasure well-worth a visit at least once!
The Phoenix Hall is featured on the flip-side of the Japanese Ten yen coin.
When visiting the Byodoin Temple, take the path around the Hall, and you will come to the museum where you can immerse in its history. One part of the museum holds original artefacts from the temple and the other is almost like walking into a heavenly whirl! Here, dancing celestial beings, child musicians and birds bearing flowers are depicted in rich, vibrant colours.
NB: Cameras were not allowed, so I do not have any pictures to show here.
2.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Byodoin Temple, Uji
Byodoin Temple & the Museum
Tickets are 600 Yen for both
To visit the Phoenix Hall, it is an additional 300 Yen. You purchase this ticket from a ticket booth within the grounds near the temple. Visits are timed every 20 minutes, so your ticket will have a time printed on it.
Return to the queuing point at least 5-minutes before the ticketed time. A guide will lead the group into the hall for a talk about the building. The talk is in Japanese, no audio guides available. It is a narrow hallway and no photographs are allowed.
Even if you do not understand Japanese, it is still worth paying the extra to view the statue and its interior at least once in your lifetime, after-all you are there already 😊
08:30 to 17:30
Museum: 09:00 to 17:00
Last entry is 15-minutes before closing
Open all year round.
Georgina suggests: **Allow yourself at least an hour in your itinerary – to walk around and enjoy the splendid garden. However, if you are visiting the Phoenix Hall, tickets are timed and you need to allow yourself more time in your plans.
Alternatively, you may wish to experience the Byodoin Temple through a good value for money private tour.
In any case, if you are not pressed for time, spend a few extra moments just to relax and take in the serenity of the garden, the lotus pond and the magnificent Temple.
3 | Uji Tea in Uji, Kyoto
Uji is famous for its green tea or its Matcha Green Tea.
From a historical perspective, Uji Tea or Green Tea was a popular drink amongst the nobleman and priests in Japan. However, it is ironic that green tea was virtually unheard of in Japan when it first arrived from China in the 700s. It was during the Kamakura period, between 1192 and 1333, that green tea leaves imported from China was cultivated in Uji. This led to popularity amongst the noblemen and priests.
The benefits of green tea, its cultivation and preparation was introduced in a book written by a Zen priest, Eisei. Eisei brought Zen Buddhism to Japan from China, hence, bestowing Uji the reputation of producing superior quality green tea as it was the first place to cultivate green tea.
To experience an authentic and traditional Japanese tea ceremony, go over to Taihoan.
3.1 | Tea House in Uji, Kyoto
A short walk from Byodoin Temple, at the southern bank of Uji River, you will find Taihoan, a public tea house. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to participate in an authentic tea ceremony. It serves matcha tea (powdered green tea) in a traditional tea-house setting and the correct tea ceremony etiquette.
You may wonder what makes Japanese Green Tea so special? Get all your answers and more whilst exploring Uji’s history in a private tour AND/OR take a rickshaw tour through Uji, to revered traditional tea shops and centuries-old historical sites with a guide.
Learn more and Book your tour by navigating via the links below:
4 | Ujigami Shrine and the Uji Shrine (宇治上神社)
The Ujigami Shrine is believed to be constructed as early as 1060 during the Heian period and is the 2nd of the two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Uji. It is the guardian shrine to Byodoin Temple. Ujigami shrine is a Shinto shrine and it’s architecture is very simple. The Honden or the main hall is built in the nagare-zukuri architectural style, which is a curved assymetrical roof, extending more on the side of the main entrance than on the opposite side. This design is such to provide shelter to the worshippers.
About 100m south of Ujigami shrine is the Uji shrine, also in the simple nagare-zukuri architectural style.
4.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Ujigami and Uji Shrines in Uji, Kyoto
Opening hours: 09:00 to 16:30
Open all year round
Admission is FREE
Please give yourself anything between 15 to 30 minutes. It is really quiet and peaceful here. On my visit, I observed a painter sketching the beautiful view from the top of the stairs looking ahead. It was rather pretty.
4.2 | Getting to Ujigami Shrine
Ujigami Shrine is on the north of Uji River, close to the Tale of Genji Museum
Takes 15 minutes to walk from JR Uji Station
Takes 10 minutes to walk from Keihan Uji Line
It is about 10 to 15 minutes (depends how distracted you get from the enchanting scenery around you) from Byodoin Temple, across the river via a small island connected by bridges.
5. Uji’s Riverbank attractions, Uji, Kyoto
Uji’s riverbank attractions are within pleasant strolling distance.
5.2 | Ukifune and Prince Niou-no-Miya
This is a statue dedicated to the final ten chapters of the The Tale of Genji, which takes place in Uji. Some scenes depicts the maiden Ukifune (which means “floating boat”) who was caught-up in a bitter love rivalry between Prince Niou-no-Miya and Genji’s son, Kaoru. Ukifune eventually throws herself into the Uji-gawa River.
5.3 | Travel tips and Useful information on Uji’s Riverbank, Uji, Kyoto
Uji Bridge is a 5-10 minute walk north of JR Uji Station
NB: Find all the information on the Tale of Genji Museum, on their official website here.
6 | Hashidera Temple – Ho-join
Hashidera, protector of Uji Bridge was built in 604 by Hata no Kawakatsu on the instructions of Prince Shotoku (574-622 AD)
6.1 | Getting to Hashidera Temple, Uji
Hashidera Temple is on the east bank of the Uji River, just 5 minutes walk from Ujigami Shrine.
7 | Mampuku-ji Temple (萬福寺), Uji, Kyoto
Mampukuji Temple was the head temple of Zen Obaku sect and was founded in 1661 by Ingen, a Chinese monk. Ingen was the founder of Zen Buddhism and was responsible for importing the Zen Obaku sect, the most recent form of Zen Buddhism from China into Japan. The architecture is distinctively Chinese, incorporating contemporary designs of the Ming Dynasty. It is profoundly peaceful and quiet here.
The temple grounds are extensive, set out as a courtyard, connected by stone paved path. It has beautiful Zen gardens surrounded by raked pebbles. There were not many people here when I arrived and gave me an opportunity to get “lost” in the extensive space!
Mampuku-ji is popular for Shojin Ryori, a sophisticated Buddhist cuisine. It is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan and became associated with Zen Buddhism in the 13th century. If you want to experience this traditional dining, you need to book in advance.
7.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Mampukuji Temple, Uji, Kyoto
Opening times: 09:00 to 17:00
Last entry at 16:30
Admission: 500 Yen
Georgina suggests: The grounds of this temple is huge, so getting here just before 16:30 will not really be worth your while. Half-an-hour is too short. You may need at least an hour minimum but anything more will be great.
7.2 | Getting to Mampukuji Temple, Uji
Mampukuji is about five minutes from Obaku Station on the JR Nara Line.
Take the Keihan Line from Kyoto, Gion-Shijo Station to Keihan Obaku Station. The one way trip takes about 20 minutes, costs around 310 Yen. It requires a transfer of trains at Chushojima Station. Trains run every 5 minutes between Keihan Obaku and Uji Stations, and its 150 yen). Mampukuji is 10 minutes walk from Keihan Obaku Station.
You can also take the local trains between Kyoto and Obaku but these trains stops frequently, at every station and takes about half-an hour.
Alternatively, you can walk to Mampukuji in 30-40 minutes from Uji Bridge.
My final thoughts
Amongst the seven attractions I visited in Uji in one day, I spent the longest time at the Byodoin Temple and then really enjoyed the walk along Uji’s Riverbank. I hope this itinerary will help you make the best of 1 day in Uji, Kyoto. as well.
Happy exploring Uji, the historic romantic ancient town in Kyoto,
February 2021, Update
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