Uji: The Land of Rice and Matcha

Six weekends ago, I felt brave. Very brave. So brave, nothing could stand in my way! So brave, I could do something incredibly stupid.

So, I decided to go to Uji.

I’m not saying that going to Uji is incredibly stupid. Uji is a beautiful city that’s about 30 minutes away from Nara by train. Famous for Byodoin Temple (the temple on the 10-yen coin) and its Matcha (powdered green tea), it seemed like the perfect place to escape to. Oh, and did I mention the Tale of Genji museum? That’s the world’s first novel… oh, and it was written by a woman (stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Hemingway). The stupidity comes in when you consider the fact that I–the most directionally challenged gaijin in the history of history–was going to Uji alone.

Aside from the training I do in Osaka and my trip back from Kizugawa the previous weekend, this was my first solo trip on the train. I’m still very wary of trusting the train schedules and maps, so I always use my broken Japanese to ask where the train is going. That way, I never get on the wrong one. So, off I went to Uji. The tourist center is right next to JR station, and they speak English. Awesome. Equipped with a map and some directions, I went off in search of Byodoin.

And I found a snowman.

Snowman

What the HECK is this doing here?

Having found something that reminded me a little more of home, I proceeded down the extremely narrow streets and continued my search for Byoudoin. My adventures took me past Agata Shrine, which I stopped at briefly. It’s kind of a roundabout way to get to Byoudoin according to my map. But my navigational skills did not fail me for once, and I wound up finding exactly what I was looking for, only it was in a less than ideal state.

Byoudoin

Byoudoin Temple: Phoenix Hall. Tragically under construction.

It’s rather ironic… I came to Uji for two things: a look at Phoenix Hall, and a matcha parfait. The first of two was easy enough to find, but it was under construction and will be until 2014. Nonetheless, I got to admire the cute construction guys, tour the gardens around Byoudoin, and go through the museum, all for the low low price of 300 yen. The gardens were gorgeous and relaxing, and the museum was pretty awesome because it has artifacts from the original Phoenix Hall, including some glass beads dating back to 1000 A.D. and one of the original bronze phoenixes from the roof, as well as 27 Bodhisattvas (I think…), each with different instruments like lutes and drums. You’ll notice there are no pictures; it’s because photos are strictly prohibited in the museum, and even if I am completely incompetent in the Japanese language, I am fluent in common courtesy.

That, and there were ladies dressed like flight attendants before crossing into every room, and they made sure no photos were taken.

After my adventures in Byoudoin, I wound up wandering a little more. I had planned to visit The Tale of Genji Museum, what with being a literature buff and all, but I wound up getting distracted by a big, shiny Uji Shrine and an even bigger promise of a nice view from the top of Daikichiyama. I hiked all the way up to the observatory, weaving around spiders and breaking halfway because my hometown in America does not prepare one for walking up mountain paths. The view at the top was breathtaking, and I’m totally glad I did it.

Uji City

From the top Daikichiyama, a beautiful view of Uji!

Of course, climbing up all that way meant that I had to climb back down. No problem. Gravity, for once, would help me out, and I was back on the ground in no time, with practically no energy and no food.

It was time for lunch.

I wandered around for a half an hour before finally entering a completely random cafe. I don’t know the name of it, but it is next to Uji River, and they serve very delicious food at an affordable price. My lunch was around 1,200 yen, with the main course and the matcha parfait I ate afterwards being roughly equal in price. Still, I didn’t mind paying the money. Uji is famous for its matcha, so even with being almost out of yen, I bought some matcha on the way out of town and have been eating it on ice cream ever since. I’ve also had a few cups of matcha tea as well. So, with food in my stomach and matcha in my bag, I was ready to head back to Nara and get to work.

Except for one thing.

Apparently, the matcha parfait, in all of its deliciousness, made navigating anything impossible. I wandered the same strip of road for 40 minutes… 40 MINUTES!… and still couldn’t figure out where I was. I would go about two or three minutes one way, change my mind, and start going the other way. Then, I would stare at my map and try to find out where I was. Failing, I would turn around and go back the other way. And the fact that I was panicking definitely did not help matters.

Bridge

Oh, God… was it this bridge I crossed to get here?

I finally walked back to Uji river and navigated my way back to the train station, much to my relief. With fall coming soon, another trip to Uji is surely in my future. Even though I had a bit of trouble coming home, I can’t wait to go back for more matcha and the Genji museum.

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