Wondering about the things to do in Uji? If you’ve ever seen the reverse side of a bronze 10 yen coin, you may already recognise the beloved temple hails from here! But aside from that, what else is there to see in Uji?

Located between two of Japan’s former ancient capitals, Kyoto and Nara, Uji 宇治 came into its own as an important cultural centre during the Heian Period (710 – 1185). During the 14th century, the small town became the original site of tea cultivation in Japan.

While its superior tea quality has been acknowledged throughout the centuries to this day, there is much more to Uji than meets the eye. Fascinatingly, some believe the site is where the true ruler of the country resides, which you’ll soon find out!

15 Underrated Things to Do in Uji: Ancient Cultural Centre | The Invisible Tourist

You may be questioning, “Is it worth visiting Uji?” Having visited twice now during winter and spring, I must say spending time in Uji is absolutely worth it –  it is such an underrated day out for lovers of Japanese history and culture. Read on for more!

I experienced the first sightseeing and matcha food tasting segment of this tour as a press invite. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

15 Underrated Things to Do in Uji Japan | The Invisible Tourist
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Fascinating & best things to do in Uji Japan

I’ve combined all the Uji things to do from both my visits to bring you this comprehensive guide. Read my detailed Uji day trip itinerary to see how to incorporate some of these things into your plans.

NOTE: There are two main religions in Japan: Shinto is native, dating back 2600 years, and Buddhism which was introduced in the 5th century. Shrines are Shinto and temples are Buddhist. You’ll see both in Uji.

With that said, let’s take a look!

Embark on a matcha food tasting tour

While it’s a compact city and the main Uji attractions can be covered in one day, it’s possible to explore deeper with a friendly local guide to help you gain further understanding.

My guide Thomas was such fantastic company on the tour! He was incredibly knowledgeable about Japanese history, I felt like we could have spoken for many hours about all things Japan.

Let’s take a look at what the tour covers, as well as more things to do in Uji after the tour!

See the unique architecture of Uji Keihan Station

Uji is serviced by two train lines, Japan Rail (JR) and the Keihan line. When arriving at Uji-Keihan Station, take a moment to look up at its architecture.

Unusual in its Brutalist style, the station was designed by Hiroyuki Wakabayashi and opened in 1995. I first met Thomas here, and we began the tour.

Learn the significance of Ujigami Jinja (Ujigami Shrine)

While on the surface there may not be anything visually significant about Ujigami Shrine, there is much more that meets the eye. On entry, we purified our hands at the famed ancient well to the right. There is a unique feature to this well, which your guide will share.

Believed to be one of the country’s oldest shrines as it has never caught on fire, Ujigami Shrine was considered the “guardian” shrine of nearby Byodoin Temple. Sharing the shrine’s special history tied to emperors and why a non-emperor is enshrined here, Thomas also described the interesting meaning behind the sand pyramids you’ll see here.

TIP: You’ll also learn why rabbits are the symbol of Ujigami Shrine. I bought rabbit and dragon omamori as gifts here for loved ones back home. You can read what these are in my guide to traditional Japanese souvenirs. It’s fun to learn what animal you are in the Chinese Zodiac, as the animal omamori at temples and shrines in Japan annually corresponds.

Ujigami Shrine, Uji

Indulge in a delicious matcha-themed lunch

Why not try some matcha-flavoured soba (buckwheat noodles) for lunch while learning more about Japanese history? Our traditional lunch stop with tatami flooring overlooked the lovely Uji River, which was a real treat!

I opted for the hot tea soba set, while Thomas chose the cold equivalent. My soba was served in a bowl that included green matcha noodles in a moreish tsuyu broth – made from common Japanese ingredients such as dashi, mirin and cooking sake. It had a sweet yet salty flavour which was delicious. I also enjoyed the tempura and cold sides.

Thomas explained some important Japanese do’s and don’ts in dining etiquette, which is always a nice little reminder, and how an ancient Shinto ritual is still widely practised before dining today.

Trying matcha foods is one of the most fun things to do in Uji Kyoto

Enjoy the Uji River walk

After such a filling meal, it was time to walk it off whilst exploring more of the town. Crossing the arched vermilion Asagiribashi Bridge (Kisen Bridge) to Tachibana Island, Thomas explained why the Uji River was so crucial for Osaka city centuries ago.

Passing the tallest stone pagoda in Japan, Jusanju Sekito (13 Storey Pagoda), Thomas also pointed out Uji’s resident cormorant birds. They uphold a fishing tradition dating back 1000 years called ukai, which can be witnessed during July to September. 

With the sounds of the flowing river beside us and the sun shining brightly above, the river walk was so pleasant and I recommend you don’t miss it. During summer, it’s possible to take an Uji river boat cruise from Tonoshima Island, too!

TIP: The river walk would be delightful in early spring as it is lined with cherry blossom trees!

An Uji River boat cruise is one of the lovely things to do in Uji Japan

Try the town’s best matcha ice cream

This was the part I had been most looking forward to! Thomas ordered me one of the tastiest matcha ice cream cones I’ve ever had in Japan, dusted in rich matcha powder.

TIP: Before Thomas could warn me, I accidentally inhaled some of the powder as I took my first bite of the ice cream. This resulted in me coughing through laughter, but as I looked around other customers were coughing in unison too! It was pretty funny… but now you have been warned, hehe.

Trying matcha ice cream in Uji, Japan

Appreciate ancient spirituality at Byodoin Temple & Hoshokan Museum 

The mesmerising Byodoin Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you look closely, you’ll notice two gold statues perched atop its Phoenix Hall. Thomas explained why phoenixes were so valued in ancient times, and how they are linked to the true ruler of Japan!

TIP: You can also spot these phoenixes drawn on the back of 10,000 yen notes.

NOTE: I do recommend coming back after the tour to see inside the Phoenix Hall, which I visited on my previous Uji trip. This is only permitted with temple staff every 20 minutes and incurs a separate cost, but is worth it to fully appreciate the ancient interior and 2.7 metre high Daibutsu (Buddha). It is the original and dates back to 1053. No shoes or photography are allowed inside.

Wondering what to do in Uji? Byodoin Temple is a treasured UNESCO World Heirtage site


After admiring the Phoenix Hall’s exterior, we moved into the incredible Hoshokan Museum. Located behind Byodoin but still on temple grounds, you DON’T want to miss this as it houses dozens of original, precious artefacts.

TIP: Take note of the 26 original statues of Praying Bodhisattva, they were carved by apprentices of the master that carved the Pheonix Hall’s Daibutsu.

My most favourite part is the room displaying a reproduction of the Phoenix Hall interior, its vibrant colours, intricate patterns and spiritual imagery are absolutely awe-inspiring. No photography is permitted inside the museum either, but you can see more on Byodoin’s official website

TIP: Pick up some lovely Byodoin themed souvenirs including omamori and stationery from inside the museum gift shop.

TIP: During late April, wisteria reaches peak bloom. I am obsessed with this colourful climber, and was SO excited to finally see it at Byodoin! Azaleas are also in bloom throughout the temple grounds.

Grind your own matcha powder

And now for a truly special experience at a tea store that has been in operation for 500 years. Once serving emperors and shoguns in centuries past, you can’t get more authentic than this place!

Thomas introduced me to Tobais, who took us upstairs to a mini museum to learn more about the lengthy tea history in Uji. The display of figurines and artefacts  representing how tea was transported centuries ago were interesting, and the photography of tea farmers through the years sparked questions from my side.

Then it was time to step back into an ancient era and use an old stone mill to grind my own matcha powder. Named ishi-usu in Japanese, this heavy cylindrical tool works by placing dried tea leaves into an opening in the top.

Holding a wooden handle, Tobias explained the optimum pace to turn the mills’ parts in order to grind the leaves down to a fine powder without burning them. It is an art and a decent workout!  

Once ready, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of my brief labour, discussing all things matcha and Japanese culture whilst sipping the tea.

Ishi-Usu Stone Mill for Green Tea in Uji Japan

Cross Ujibashi, one of Japan’s oldest bridges

First constructed over 1300 years ago, Ujibashi Bridge is recognised as one of the oldest in Japan.

This is a nice little spot to see Uji’s three main bridges at once, along with Tonoshima and Tachibana Islands centred in the river.

View of Uji's three bridges from Ujibashi Bridge

Hunt down reminders of the world’s first novel 

Have you ever heard of the Tale of the Genji? Believed to be the world’s first novel, it was written by noblewoman and poet, Murasaki Shikibu back in the early 11th century.

The tale is set in Uji during the Heian Period, focussing on the lifestyles of high-ranking court officials and the romantic escapades of the emperor’s son who was removed from the line of succession.

During the tour, you’ll come across two statues related to the Tale of the Genji. They are the Statue of Murasaki Shikibu, depicting the novel’s author and the Statue of 10 Uji Chapters. Your guide will explain more about each.

TIP: The Tale of the Genji Museum can also be visited after the tour if you wish.

And this concludes the tour, but we’re not done with the things to do in Uji yet! It was here I bid farewell to Thomas before further exploring the town. Keep reading to find out more!

See all the rabbits at Uji Shrine

A former imperial villa built during the Heian Period, Uji Shrine (Uji-jinja) is not to be confused with Ujigami Shrine we saw earlier. Its main hall is a designated Important Cultural Property, enshrining the son of Emperor Ojin. He is considered the guardian deity of Uji. 

The shrine is known for its rabbit symbolism, as legend says the guardian deity was led to this spot by a furry friend who showed him the way. You can buy a rabbit ema (wooden plaque) to draw a unique face and write a wish!

Uji Shrine Ema (Wishing Plaques)

Admire the floral beauty & rituals of Mimuroto-ji Temple

Do you love azalea and hydrangea flowers as much as I do? You need to add 1200-year old Mimuroto-ji Temple to your springtime Uji itinerary! It’s the perfect hillside spot to admire meticulously pruned flora and enjoy the leafy surroundings year-round.

During May, 20,000 tsutsuji (azaleas) burst into vibrant hues here, while June sees the hydrangea garden (ajisai) become awash with 10,000 pastel-coloured blooms. Potted lotus flowers can be seen scattered around the main hall in summer, while red leaves dominate the scenery in autumn.

Besides the flowers, there are more interesting things to see here. Climb the stairs to find a human-headed coiled snake statue. He’ll see you choose either good health or a prosperous life depending on which part of him you touch (don’t be greedy by wishing for both!).

A stone cow is hiding a jewel inside its mouth, touching it is said to bring good luck. More info on Mimuroto-ji here. The temple office has lovely season-themed souvenirs here too!

TIP: You may wish to start off at this temple, as it closes earlier than others in Uji (15:20 daily).

Features at Mimuroto-ji Temple in Uji Kyoto

Trek to Daikichiyama Observation Deck

Now Daikichiyama Observation Deck atop Mt Buttokusan is one I felt wasn’t completely worth it during my spring trip. The hike is a monotonous 20 minutes up a steep ledge, and much of the view on the way up was obstructed by tree growth.

It may be worth your time during the winter months if the trees are more barren to see the views over Uji. And I believe it’s a great viewing spot for autumn colours and at sunset, so decide if it will be worth the trek for you!

Daikichiyama Observation Deck, Uji

Sample some unusual matcha foods 

Can’t get enough of the different matcha foods and need an afternoon snack? Or even stay for dinner before heading back to your accommodation?

Try green tea curry, matcha gyoza (meat-filled fried dumplings), matcha takoyaki (fried octopus balls), matcha parfait desserts and more!

Buy some tea and matcha souvenirs along Byodoin Omotesando

Omotesando Street is a haven for fellow lovers of matcha and green tea! In addition to goodies I picked up on my previous visit, this time I bought some more different kinds of tea, matcha chocolate, another tea canister and some snacks.

This is also a great place to pick up tea utensils, hand-crafted teapots and similar gifts to being home.

Byodoin Omotesando, Uji

Souvenirs from Uji, Kyoto Japan

How to get to Uji from Kyoto or Osaka

There are two train lines that service Uji: The JR Nara Line and the Keihan Line. The journey from Kyoto Station to Uji on the JR Line is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. A Suica card or single tickets can be purchased for use on the Keihan Line.

  • Kyoto to Uji trains
    • 30 mins from Kyoto Station to JR Uji Station on the JR Nara line, Shinatabe direction (west of the river bank).
    • 45 mins from Kyoto’s Gion area on the Keihan Main Line to Keihan Uji Station (east of the river bank).
  • Osaka to Uji train
    • 1 hour from Osaka’s Yodoyabashi or Kyobashi Stations on the Keihan Line to Keihan Uji Station.
  • How far is Nara from Uji?
    • Depending on the train connection along the JR Nara Line, the journey between Uji and Nara ranges from 40 minutes to 1 hour.

How much time do you need in Uji?

If you’re just wanting to visit Byodoin and the Hoshukan Museum, then 2-3 hours in Uji will be fine. However as I mentioned earlier, I’ve spent two full days covering these things to do in Uji during separate visits to Japan… and it still wasn’t enough!

In saying that, one full day is a good amount of time in Uji to cover a number of these sights, and enjoy a meal or two. It is really up to you.

TIP: It is possible to combine Uji and Nara in one day with half a day in each. Although I feel this may be a bit rushed for first time visitors as each warrants a full day in my experiences.

Concluding these things to do in Uji Kyoto

Is Uji worth visiting? Due to its close proximity to Kyoto and Nara with ancient treasures and traditional architecture to enjoy, Uji is definitely worth visiting for those interested in Japanese history and spirituality. There is a fascinating reason why symbols of Uji feature on Japanese coins and banknotes!

With temple gardens curated to have something blooming in every season, Uji is also worth visiting for those who adore beautiful seasonal flowers. And let’s not forget it’s a haven for lovers of green tea and matcha!

Sending a big thanks again to Arigato Travel for having me on the amazing tour! 

32 million visitors to Japan travelled to Kyoto in 2023, but only a small portion of those numbers venture beyond the city to Uji. Enjoy exploring this gem during your time in the Kansai region.

While you’re here, take a look at what you’re forgetting to pack for Japan, download my free Japanese for tourists cheat sheet, find out what else you need to know when planning a Japan trip and much more on my travel blog for Japan!

Feeling social? Join my free Japan Off the Beaten Path Facebook Group and come and join me on Facebook, PinterestInstagram and TikTok for more Japan inspiration!

Until next time,
The Invisible Tourist

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15 Underrated Things to Do in Uji Japan | The Invisible Tourist

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