New tea, azaleas, and cultural splendor
Ian Ropke writes:
The country town of Uji is famous for its temples, relaxing river-side scenery and a wide range of interesting cultural attractions. Uji has also been the tea capital of Japan since the 12th century. A short walk out of town in an easterly direction, and you will see the low, dark-green tea bushes covering the landscape. The first leaves of the year are picked in May. May is one of the best times to visit Uji â€” to stroll along the river (especially the north side, east of Uji Keihan Station) and take in the magnificence of the azaleas in full bloom, to see the wonders of its temples, to taste the first tea of the year, and to simply relax in a town that has been a tourist mecca for centuries. Here are some highlights.
Byodo-in: Byodo-inâ€™s Phoenix Hall, which graces Japanâ€™s Â¥10 coin, is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful structures ever built in Japan. With its two wooden wings built to perfect proportions, and the central hall reflected in the large pond in front of it, the Phoenix Hall is well worth visiting.
Mampuku-ji: One of the more exotically beautiful temples in Japan, Mampuku-ji was built in the Chinese Ming (1368-1644) dynasty architectural style. As you pass through the towering gate you soon notice the purely Chinese details: the upwardly curved roof corners, the unique red colored buildings, the black tiled floors, and the broken swastika symbols used in the railings and elsewhere. A stroll around the grounds of Mampuku-ji is a rare treat and one that you are sure to remember for years to come. Mampuku-ji also serves Chinese vegetarian lunch courses: one very simple course that is reasonably priced and one more elaborate course (reservations required, call tourist information for details). To get to Mampuku-ji get off at Obaku Station (2 stops before Uji).
Uji can be reached via the Keihan Line (change at Chushojima), and JR (from Kyoto Stn.). Itâ€™s about 30 minutes from Kyoto. Here is a handy map of the area. Tourist information in English can be found here.
Text by Ian Ropke. Pictures of Mampuku-ji by Michael Lambe. Ian Ropke is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Osaka and Kyoto, editor of Kyoto Visitors Guide, and director of Your Japan Private Tours. He posts regularly for Deep Kyoto on the 15th of each month.
My apologies to Ian for the delay in posting this article!