The city of Uji, located between the two ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara, is blessed with the quality of soil and surroundings needed for one of Japan’s most famous products, matcha (green tea).
Tea cultivation in Uji can be traced back to the early 11th century, and this tradition has been kept in the utmost standing until today. Although the tradition of tea cultivation in Japan originated at Kozanji Temple in Kyoto, it was tea from Uji that has come to be renowned for its superior quality. Eisai—a Japanese Buddhist priest who imported both Zen Buddhism and green tea to Japan from China around 700 A.D.—in fact advised the priests in Uji on how to cultivate and produce the beverage. Over time tea cultivation became popular among nobility and later the masses around 1400 with Uji’s tea being considered as one of the most prestigious gifts.
Nowadays, you can enjoy Uji tea and the associated culture in many ways while strolling around the town. From matcha-flavored soba to ice creams and sweets—the people of Uji have certainly made the most out of their delicious product. When you walk towards the Byodoin Temple you will follow Omotesando where you will easily find all of them!
A tea shop which attracts many visitors to Uji is Nakamura Tokichi located near JR Uji Station with a second store located near the river. Nakamura Tokichi is a family business with a longstanding tradition of trading Uji tea and promoting its good flavor as well as the culture associated with it. In 2001 they decided to renovate their old tea factory into a cafe/restaurant offering green tea sweets as well as their home blend, Nakamura tea. The cafe has a small terrace watching over the garden separating it from the shop which faces the road. Cold matcha soba is by far the most popular choice costing only 1,100 yen for the set menu, which includes the soba as well as several side dishes such as rice sprinkled with green tea powder.
Not having a cup of delicious Uji tea while you are there is of course not done, so why not try some at one of Uji most renowned tea houses? Across the river from Byodoin Temple you will come across the tea house Taihoan, which translates to “Tea house across from the Phoenix” (referring to the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin Temple). Here you can experience an authentic tea ceremony performed by some of the best trained masters in the region.
While seated in seiza, the ceremony last about 30 minutes during which you can not only learn much about the tea being prepared and the ceremony itself, but also savor some freshly made green tea. Taihoan is open to the public from 10:00 to 16:00 and joining in for the tea ceremony costs only 500 yen.
Fukujuen Ujicha Kobo
At Fukujuen Ujicha Kobo, just across the river from Taihoan, you will not only find a restaurant, but also tea rooms, workshop studios and a gift shop to fulfill all your tea-related needs. Unfortunately, the entire tea-making workshop is far from cheapo friendly costing 15,000 yen for a 2.5 hour class—but the smaller workshops focusing on certain aspects of preparing green tea are! These shorter sessions of about half an hour and are held in intervals throughout the day cost between 1,200 and 2,500 yen.
Fukujuen Ujicha Kobo is open for business between 10:00 and 17:00. The price for their tea ranges from 1,300 yen to 3,000 yen for 30-50 g bags or 70 g canisters, but sweets are only about 1,200 yen and drinks around 700 yen.
Getting to and around Uji
Uji is conveniently accessed on the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station or on the Keihan Uji Line. From the main station (Uji Station), it is just a short walk to most of the major attractions and tea houses in the town. If you would like some more information to plan your trip in Uji, just walk into the tourist information center east of Byodoin.