If you've ever visited Kyoto you've probably seen the usual tourist sights such as the Golden Pavillion and Kiyomizudera. You likely even had a stroll along the Kamogawa river in Kyoto city, and quite possibly visited Nishiki Market. Was I close?
While all of those places are definitely worth a visit, and somewhere I recommend to someone visiting Kyoto for the first time, in this post I want to try and get you out of Kyoto city and exploring a lesser known place in Kyoto, called Uji (宇治市). Uji is known for its high quality green tea, and for the famous Byodoin temple - the temple featured on the back of the Japanese 10 yen coin.
Uji is located not far from Kyoto city, and easily accessible by train from Kyoto and Osaka. I recommend spending a half day or a full day in this green tea town, depending on your interests. Below is my personal recommendation list of things to do in Uji. Hopefully it makes planning your day trip a little easier, and highlights some of Uji's best attractions. It really is a lovely little day trip from Kyoto city!
Visit Byodoin and learn about the temple on the 10 yen coin
Byodoin translates to the "Temple of Equality." Aside from appearing on the Japanese 10 yen coin, Byodoin has a huge history. I tried many times to summarise the main parts from the long history of this temple for this blog entry, but it was honestly an impossible task. If you're into Buddhism or Japanese history then I definitely recommend reading up a little before going, although the temple will give you a brochure upon entering with some important facts.
At the time of my visit, adult entry tickets to Byodoin were 600 yen each. With this ticket you can wander the temple grounds, admire the Phoenix Hall from the outside, and visit the museum. The museum has a ton of history about the temple, plus some artefacts on display. Just made sure you come ready to consume information.
The actual image on the 10 yen coin is of Phoenix Hall, which was completed in 1053. It costs extra to access this part of the temple, and tickets must be purchased after entering from a second ticket booth. I recommend buying your ticket as soon as entering, as the group tours fill up very quickly. On a busy day it's normal to wait a few hours for entry into the Phoenix Hall, so don't say I didn't warn you! Tours are only available in Japanese, but you can grab some information in English from the ticket booth.
So, is visiting the Phoenix Hall worth it? To be honest, yes and no. If you're able to secure a ticket for a reasonable hour, then yes. If the earliest entry to the hall is several hours away, then probably not - unless you're a Japanese history buff.
Overall, a lovely temple with a ton of history definitely worth a visit (even if you don't enter Phoenix Hall!)
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Suggested access to Byodoin: Uji station (JR) or Uji station (Keihan line).
Name in Japanese: 平等院
Address in English: Renge-116 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021
Address in Japanese: 〒611-0021 京都府宇治市宇治蓮華116
Admire the colourful hydrangeas at Mimurotoji Hydrangea Garden
Mimurotoji is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto for hydrangeas. Hydrangeas in Japan bloom in rainy season, right as the weather starts to get a little hot and humid.
I've specifically mentioned the Hydrangea Garden in this post, as I've only visited Mimurotoji during hydrangea season. However, after researching a little more about this temple online I found out that it's also a popular place for lotus, azaleas and weeping plum blossoms.
The best way to find out what's currently blooming is to check the temple's Instagram page, or the temple's website. Information is only available in Japanese, but the page translates well with translation plug-ins.
In summer the gardens also open a small cafe with some hydrangea themed sweets available. I stopped by here on both of my visits to Mimurotoji for some ice-cream and shaved ice, which were a welcome treat in the heat.
If you don't get a chance to visit Mimurotoji Hydrangea Garden, but would still love to see some hydrangeas, check out my post that focuses on Hydrangeas in Osaka city (entry is free!)
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This temple is a must for flower lovers, and the best part is that it's easily accessible from Kyoto or Osaka. I must say, there is a slight uphill walk from the station to the temple, but its not at all difficult. Please check the temple's Instagram or website for information about in-season flowers.
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Suggested access to Mimurotoji: Mimurodo Station (Keihan line).
Name in Japanese: 三室戸寺 あじさい園
Address in English: 〒611-0013 Kyoto, Uji, Todo, Okunoike−10−16
Address in Japanese: 〒611-0013 京都府宇治市莵道奥ノ池10−16
Eat some green tea flavoured food at Byodo-in Omotesando Street
This street is located around five minutes walk from Uji station. If visiting Byodoin is on your list for the day, then you'll likely stumble across this street on your way there, as it's basically the street that leads you to up to the temple.
This street is a great place to sample some Uji tea, and buy some green tea related souvenirs. Here in Omotensando Street you'll be spoilt for choice for different teas and tea related products. Many stores sell green tea products such as ice-cream, dango, pancakes, and even green tea noodles!
Try the delicious matcha green tea ice-cream at Masuda Chaho
I had the matcha green tea soft-serve ice-cream covered in matcha powder. It tastes as good as it looks!
Name in Japanese: ますだ茶舗
Address in English: Renge-21-3 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021
Address in Japanese: 〒611-0021 京都府宇治市宇治蓮華２１−3
Grab a matcha flavoured treat at Iwai!
I tried the matcha pancakes which had a stencil of the phoenix from Byodoin on top. Of course they came with a scoop of matcha ice-cream and matcha syrup.
Name in Japanese: はんなりかふぇ・京の飴工房 憩和井(iwai) 平等院店
Address in English: 5-6 宇治蓮華 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021
Address in Japanese: 〒611-0021 京都府宇治市宇治蓮華５−6
What else can I see while visiting Uji?
Tale of Genji Museum
A museum about the famous Japanese novel "The Tale of Genji" written by Murasaki Shikibu and considered by many to be one of the world's first novels.
Name in Japanese: 宇治市源氏物語ミュージアム
Address in English: Higashiuchi-45-26 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021
Address in Japanese: 〒611-0021 京都府宇治市宇治東内45-26
A Zen Temple complex that opens early in the morning for Buddhist sutra chanting.
Name in Japanese: 興聖寺
Address in English: Yamada-27-1 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021
Address in Japanese: 〒611-0021 京都府宇治市宇治山田27-1
Daikichiyama Observation Deck
Hike up to Daikichiyama Observation Deck for a view out over Uji city.
Name in Japanese: 大吉山展望台
Address in English: Higashiuchi-65-5 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021
Address in Japanese: 〒611-0021 京都府宇治市宇治東内６５−5
Final thoughts on Uji
Uji is a great place for a half day or one day trip from either Kyoto or Osaka. The crowds are fewer, the air is cleaner, and the green tea flavoured sweets are delicious! Uji is an easy place to tour alone, or otherwise you can join a short organised tour.
If you're lucky enough to be visiting Kyoto during autumn, I highly suggest making a reservation to enter Saihoji (Kokedera) Temple if time permits. The autumn colours contrast beautifully with the greens of the moss.
For anybody interested in my day-to-day expat life in Japan, head on over to my Instagram page. I usually post a little something most days either in stories or in feed, so come take a look! There's LOTS of stuff that doesn't make it to this blog :)
Recommendations for booking accommodation, day trip tours and travel related needs.
Reviews (restaurants, accommodation, local attractions etc.): Trip Advisor
Travel Insurance: Visitors Coverage
Learn the language: italki
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Visiting Uji soon? Take a look at some of the tours currently on offer!