“Matcha makes everything better” ~ Unknown.
As a huge lover of matcha green tea, putting together an Uji day trip itinerary had been on my never-ending list of things to do in Japan for a number of years. So you can imagine how amazing it must have been to say I had one of the most mind-altering experiences of my life there!
Known throughout Japan for its superior green tea cultivation since the 14th century and a favoured location of nobility, there is more to Uji 宇治 than first meets the eye. But even if green tea isn’t for you, Uji is one of the delightful days trip from Kyoto or Osaka that will leave you in awe of minds from centuries past.
Since the 11th century, great ideas have blossomed in Uji by locals thinking outside of the norm. It’s where the world’s first novel was written, one of the most significant UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan is located and it also has an endless array of matcha treats and desserts on offer.
If you’re wanting to spend one day in Uji with a detailed itinerary covering its historical, cultural and seasonal sides, read on for more!
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NOTE: This Uji day trip itinerary forms part of my guide to the amazing day trips from Kyoto or Osaka, so take a look for more inspiration once you’re done here.
Located just 30 minutes from Kyoto, it’s easy to hop on a train and make your way to Uji. More details about how to get to Uji can be found down the page.
With that said, let’s begin this one day in Uji itinerary!
Start with an early lunch at Itohkyuemon Tea House
We know Japan is famous for its Uji green tea, so why not try an interesting fusion of it in a meal to beat any lunch crowds before setting off?
I recommend Itohkyuemon Tea House for Uji food, opposite JR Uji Station. Selling all kinds of locally produced green tea, matcha powder, tea utensils and even noodles, make a beeline for their gorgeous restaurant out the back overlooking a little zen garden.
I couldn’t pass up their Uji Matcha and Hojicha Keema Curry served with rice. It was certainly interesting, but had a bit of a kick to it!
If you’re not feeling as adventurous as I was trying their signature combo curry, their green tea udon noodle dish or selection of delicious parfaits may take your fancy instead.
Be left in awe by Byodoin Temple
With a satisfied tummy, make your way over to the jewel in Uji’s crown, Byodoin Temple 平等院 (cost: 700 yen). Featured on the back of the bronze 10 yen coins, you may recognise this UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the main Uji attractions.
Built in 1052 by Regent Fujiwara no Yorimichi, Byodoin is has been recognised as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Its main Phoenix Hall is said to have been modelled after a palace in the Land of Happiness, its East and West corridors joining to form the shape of a phoenix.
TIP: If visiting in mid-April to early May, don’t miss walking through Byodoin Omotemon (Main Gate) to have your breath taken away by Fujidana – an enormous pagoda covered in a 280-year old purple wisteria (my personal favourite!). It blooms alongside vibrant tsutsuju (azaleas).
The main Phoenix Hall houses a 2.7 metre-exquisite Amida Buddha carved by Jocho, considered the greatest Buddhist sculptor in Japanese history. It’s amazing to think this golden sculpture is the original, dating back to 1053 – no wonder it’s a National Treasure!
TIP: See if you can find the 66 small mirrors embedded into the ceiling to reflect sunlight.
Much of the coloured paintwork inside has since faded, but you’ll get to see an incredible reconstruction at nearby Hoshokan Museum, more on this in a moment.
NOTE: You can only visit inside the Phoenix Hall on a guided tour, which starts every 20 mins (9:30 – 16:10 daily). The wait can be up to 1.5 hours during April-May and October-November, so get a ticket first then explore the grounds as you wait. Cost: 300 yen. Footwear and photography are forbidden inside the hall, so please respect the rules.
Don’t miss the Hoshokan Museum
After wandering through the landscaped gardens of Byodoin, it would be easy to miss the Hoshokan Museum 平等院 鳳翔館 hiding away up a staircase behind it. I can’t stress enough how much I highly, highly recommend visiting!
Housing more National Treasures such as the original temple bell from the Heian Period (794 – 1185), Eleven-Faced Kannon statue, 26 original statues of Praying Bodhisattva (Buddhist Saints) and other precious objects, the way these have been preserved is remarkable.
I wish with all my heart that photos were not forbidden inside so I could show you just how incredible the coloured reconstructions of the Phoenix Hall interior were. There is a lot of imagery that doesn’t feature on the Hoshokan Museum website.
The verbiage explaining what was believed to happen in the afterlife was what blew my mind the most. It described Buddha cradling us in a lotus flower in the palm of his hand, what a beautiful thought.
TIP: Have you seen the phoenix image on the back of a 10,000 yen note? Look up to Byodoin’s rooftop to see it! And if you love collecting omamori as I do (learn what these are in my guide to handcrafted Japanese souvenirs), I bought the dark blue phoenix one from the museum gift shop.
Say hello to the Statue of Murasaki Shikibu
Have you ever heard of the “Tale of the Genji?” Believed to be the world’s first novel written during the Heian Period (794 – 1185), the last ten chapters are set here in Uji.
A stone statue of the book’s author Murasaki Shikibu 紫式部像 is seated on the western bank of the Uji River beside Uji Bridge. Draped in robes and holding an unravelled scroll, this elegant mastermind was a lady-in-waiting to Empress Shoshi at the time.
TIP: Keep an eye out for a related statue at the foot of Asagiribashi Bridge,朝霧橋 the nearby vermillion arch that also spans the Uji River. This Prince and Princes in a boat are known as the Statue of the Ten Uji Chapters 宇治十帖の像, representing all the areas in Uji mentioned in the novel.
TIP: If time permits, you may also wish to visit the Tale of the Genji Museum 宇治市源氏物語ミュージアム.
Pay a visit to Uji Shrine
Not to be confused with Ujigami Shrine up next, Uji Shrine (Uji-jinja) 宇治神社 dates back to the Heian Period and is dedicated to the son of a 3rd century Emperor who committed suicide to allow his brother to ascend the throne.
I especially enjoyed the rabbit-themed ema (wooden wishing plaques) left behind by worshippers here. The ema encourage visitors to draw their own faces on the rabbits, with some interesting results!
Take a look at Ujigami Shrine
Next up on our Uji day trip is another UNESCO World Heritage site, Ujigami Shrine 宇治上神社 was once the guardian shrine of Byodoin during the Heian Period. Records state it was well established 1000 years ago and has been beautifully preserved.
The small shrine supplying spring water beside the main hall has been used in rituals throughout the centuries. Even walking the peaceful streets in this area is lovely in itself.
Climb up to the Daikichiyama Observation Deck
If you’re keen on climbing an incredibly steep stone staircase, you’ll be rewarded with views over Uji from Daikichiyama Observation Deck 大吉山展望台!
It’s at the peak of Mt Buttokusan and the hike takes around 20 minutes. Keep your eyes peeled for the views of Byodoin across the river appearing in miniature form.
This spot is known for its autumn foliage which frames the panoramic views over Uji below. And during spring, the Ujigawa River Sakura Matsuri (cherry blossom festival) is held, the riverbanks lined with pink hues. A beautiful sight!
Cross over the Ujibashi Bridge
As we head back to the station to conclude this Uji day trip, we’ll cross over the Ujibashi Bridge 宇治橋. It’s recognised as one of the oldest bridges in Japan, first constructed over 1300 years ago. From here, there is a lovely view of Tonoshima Island 塔の島 and Tachibana Island 橘島 in the middle of Uji River against a mountainous backdrop.
Head back to the station through Uji Byodo-in Omotesando
Lined with small tea houses and tea ware shops preserved from centuries past, Uji Byodo-in Omotesando 平等院表参道 is the perfect area to pick up any last minute souvenirs from Uji.
Feel like an afternoon sweet treat? I couldn’t resist this matcha ice cream from Itoh Kyuemon, 伊藤久右衛門 JR宇治駅前店 also opposite JR Uji Station. Decorated with raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, it was delectable.
I also picked up some matcha macarons to have for dessert in my room back in Kyoto later that night. So good!
As an invisible tourist, I love helping to keep old traditions alive by supporting local culture and small businesses. There are countless little stores in Uji where you can spend your yen!
In terms of tea souvenirs on my Kyoto to Uji day trip, I bought a new chasen (Japanese bamboo whisk), naoshi (whisk holder to keep the bamboo in shape) and a gorgeous tea canister decorated in this beautiful traditional design below. I also bought ema from Uji Shrine and Byodo-in.
TIP: Do research which kinds of matcha you like before your visit to Uji. I was overwhelmed by the selection, but bought a lovely ceremonial grade one in a box in addition to a bitter variety in a pouch. A ceremonial kind is usually best. Remember, matcha powder should be bright green and not dull when you first open it.
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 day trip
- 1 hour from Osaka’s Yodoyabashi or Kyobashi Stations on the Keihan Line to Keihan Uji Station.
Wondering how much time you need in Uji? As you can see from this itinerary, I’m confident that Uji is worth a day trip as there are a number of significant sights to see and experience. Byodo-in and the Hoshokan Museum are worth the journey in themselves.
However if you were to skip the Daikichiyama Observation Deck and spend less time in the Omotesando shopping area, you could condense it down to an Uji half-day itinerary. You can see my Nara day trip itinerary if you’d like to take elements of both and combine the two into one day, although it may feel quite rushed.
Overall, the wonders to be found in Uji will captivate your mind, so I’d recommend allowing more time than you think you’ll need!
Concluding this Uji day trip from Kyoto or Osaka
For lovers of green tea, those who yearn to learn more about Japanese history from millennia ago, folks interested in spirituality and appreciating the beauty of each season, I highly recommend adding an extra day to your Kyoto itinerary or Osaka itinerary to visit Uji Japan.
From seeing a snowy blanket on the old buildings in winter, to cherry blossoms and wisteria in spring, to colourful hydrangea bursts in summer and red maples in autumn, any season is a great time to visit Uji.
So that’s a wrap for my Uji day trip itinerary! What are your thoughts on this Uji travel guide? Which of these places will you be visiting on your Uji day trip? Let me know in the comments below.
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!
Until next time,
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