Japan Day 4: Uji, or The First Time Leslie Drank Too Much Tea
March 28, 2016 by David T. Allen
Uji is a city in Japan that’s known for its green tea. Japan is a country known for its green tea. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of green tea in Uji. It also happens to be one of my favorite places.
We stopped by the phoenix temple, Byodo-in, which is featured on the back of the ¥10 coin, and ate at Nakamura Tokichi Honten, which is TripAdvisor’s #1 restaurant in Uji. Leslie found a mascot that left her squealing with joy. On our way back to the room, we encountered a cheer against domestic violence outside of Kyoto Station.
Leslie said Uji was one of the most magical places she’s ever been, perhaps tied with Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany.
Good morning, Uji!
Leslie said she was advancing through the stages of my cold faster than I was, and I told her it wasn’t a competition. Still, we both were sick, so we weren’t sure about Uji that morning. However, it seemed easier than walking around Kyoto, so we went for it.
We downed some hot canned corn soup from a vending machine on our way to Kyoto Station, which soothed our throat. A local train took us to Uji in thirty minutes for only ¥240 a person. (Local trains make every stop, unlike the rapid trains.)
When we arrived and got our first whiff of green tea, Leslie smiled. I knew we had made the right decision, and we were in for a good day when I saw that beautiful smile.
It’s easy to smell green tea in Uji, because it’s everywhere.
Look at this matcha cream pan we got for breakfast from the bakery:
I said, look at it.
That’s not just one bakery playing up the local charm; it’s like that everywhere in Uji. Don’t believe me?
We dropped in one of the umpteen tea shops for a peek. Although Leslie was smiling the whole time, she still wasn’t feeling well, so I ordered her a bowl of matcha and a snack. They had a nice private area for drinking your tea.
Everywhere we entered offered us tea and, sometimes, a snack. Do you have any idea how hopped up we were on caffeine?
Even the information center smelled like tea, and had free self-service tea.
We also spotted our first Japanese Kit Kats. I intended to buy one of every type I encountered, starting with these two tea-flavored boxes.
Byodo-in, or, “The Phoenix Temple,” was originally built in 998 AD as a villa, then converted into a Buddhist temple in 1052 AD. You can find it on the back of a ¥10 coin, and the phoenixes are on the back of ¥10,000 notes.
I enjoyed watching the koi and called them graceful. Leslie laughed at me, and said they were “lazy and slow.”
Wandering around Uji
Our only plans were to see a few temples and eat and drink green tea all day, so most of our time was spent just walking around Uji and soaking it all in.
We dropped by Uji shrine, which was a quiet, uneventful place. Perfect.
Behind Uji Shrine is Ujigami Shrine, which was built around 1060 AD and is considered the oldest standing shrine in Japan.
Leslie noted all the trees and how much happier everyone seemed to be in Uji, compared to everywhere else we’d been. She mentioned if we end up doing JET, we should be in or near Uji because it’s so peaceful.
We wanted to see more temples in Uji, but we got lost. Once you’re away from the main road, it quickly becomes a populated place without many signs. Also, we were getting peckish, so we headed back for lunch, to a restaurant I was very excited for.
This was my third time eating at Nakamura Tokichi Byodointen, and I couldn’t have been happier to finally share the experience with Leslie. This restaurant has been in business since 1864, and it’s hopping. In fact, it was one of the very few lines we encountered at a restaurant.
I was worried about the wait, so I asked Leslie if she wanted to go elsewhere. She insisted on staying, since I had talked about it so much. She also noted it was big enough to have a waiting room area, which is uncommon in Japan. Additionally, many of the items in the menu were sold out, so it had to be good.
There was a sign that said irashyaimase (welcome to our store) since the staff was so busy that they couldn’t greet people when they entered. You even had to write your own name on the waiting list, which I hadn’t noticed until after a few other people came in.
The staff was less friendly than the other restaurants we’d eaten in, but they weren’t rude. They were just busy. The prices were surprisingly fantastic.
While we were waiting, the waitress called names to be seated. Three couples in a row had given up on waiting, so an older Japanese couple was called. The woman was visibly excited, so I yelled, “Yokatta desu ne!” (I’m glad for you). She laughed. They finished their meal just as we started, so later, when they left the restaurant, they waved at us through the window with a big smile.
We ordered two matcha noodle dishes:
… a medley of desserts made with tea:
… and hojicha cappuccino, which tasted sort of like coffee because it’s roasted green tea.
I thought the cappuccino was good, but Leslie loved it. For the dessert, I enjoyed the matcha cheescake with chunks of (what I assume is) sweet potato the most.
We ate ...
… then paid our bill, which I thought was reasonable, given the quality and popularity of this restaurant.
I remembered one dish from a previous trip, I think it was called Thick Matcha, which is just a really thick matcha coating the bottom of a bowl. You scrape off the matcha and eat it, then they pour hot water in so you can drink the rest. I’d love to try that, next time, before we have too much other green tea.
If you would like to try Nakamura’s brand of tea, visit their English web site.
The Prince of Green Tea
Okay, just one last picture to show just how much green tea flavored foods are in Uji:
While heading back to the station, we encountered this souvenir shop.
Leslie wanted a memento of Uji, because it was such a wonderful town and she had a fantastic time.
Upon entering, the clerk offered us tea and two matcha cookies. At this point, we really didn’t want any more tea because of how much we had consumed all day. I almost turned down her offer, but I thought better of it because I didn’t want to be rude.
Leslie picked out a coin purse featuring who we call Uji chan, the toddler prince of Uji, and a matcha bowl.
Arguably the best part of this store was the gift wrapping. Leslie was overcome with excitement when her coinpurse was wrapped with Uji chan paper, and grinned even wider when that was placed in a plastic Uji chan bag. She squealed when the clerk pulled out a sheet of Uji chan stickers to seal the bag.
The clerk was taken off guard, but loved the enthusiasm, so she offered Leslie a full sheet of Uji chan stickers. Later, Leslie said, “I wonder at what age me geeking out over Uji chan won’t get me a free sheet of stickers.”
I think that was the height of Leslie’s excitement during this trip. (She claims it was also the most hopped up on caffeine she’s ever been in her life).
Here’s the rest of our haul, more or less, from the day trip:
The liqueurs were duty free. We haven’t tried them yet, but I’ll name them here if you are interested:
- Yowa no Midori: Uji Matcha Green Tea Liqueur
- Yowa no Midori: Uji Matcha Chocolate Liqueur
The liqueurs and Kit Kats were purchased at Itohkyuemon Co., Ltd., but they currently do not sell outside of Japan.
Cheerleaders at Kyoto Station
In our return trip, we spotted a number of gardens that interspersed the city. They were just small gardens, where a building or two would normally stand in the city outskirts (but the area was still densely populated). I’m pretty sure some of them were tea plants. It was a neat aesthetic, but I couldn’t capture a non blurry photo from the train.
We arrived at Kyoto station and were greeted with this:
It ended up being a heartfelt cheer about domestic violence awareness. I’d never seen Japanese cheerleaders before, but holy cow, their energy is through the roof.
Leslie might have Uji chan, but I was infatuated with Mayumaro, who’s a Kyoto mascot styled after a silkworm cocoon.
Leslie and I clapped like fools throughout the entire performance.
I have no idea how much tea we ate and drank, but we wanted a simple, tea-free dinner after all of that. (Leslie didn’t even know there was such a thing as too much tea.) Konbini food is incredibly satisfying, restocked often, and there are many options to choose from. This meal was provided by a Mini Stop.
We’re staying at K’s House Hostel for a little while, and they were celebrating an anniversary so we dropped into the bar to play bingo.
We met a Bavarian traveler who told us about the Shikoku Pilgrimage, which runs the perimeter of the Shikoku island. He walked it to quit smoking and work some other things out of his system, and it took 90 days. He warned that temples sell out-of-date guides, with roads that are no longer accurate. One notable place was the Dogo Onsen, which is over 1,000 years old, and was an inspiration for Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away.
I can’t say I understand going somewhere to “find yourself.” I’ve always been the type to know what I want to do, and then I go do it. Still, walking temple-to-temple through ghost towns and abandoned streets for three months sounds appealing.
Uji remains one of my favorite destinations, perhaps just after Miyajima. We thought this would be a break after the previous day’s trip to Fushimi Inari, but we spent over six hours walking around Uji and still racked up 18,000 steps (about 8.5 miles) by the end of the day.
I wish we had been able to see a few more things, though, most notably Obakusan Manpukuji and Mimurotoji Temple. We had a hard time finding our way, and couldn’t remember what these places were, so we gave up and spent most of our time in the main stretch.
Mimurotoji seems particularly beautiful when in bloom; perhaps we’ll make it back for the cherry blossom season sometime. It seems that April until August is wonderful for blooms.
My next article will include pictures of young adults wearing kimonos taking selfies of themselves when we accidentally happened upon Kiyomizu-dera. Actually, Leslie will take an interesting selfie, herself. We also explore Kyoto Station.
This article was written using notes and pictures from our day trip on November 12, 2015.