Arriving from Keihan Uji station, we remained first on the east bank of Uji river to see Ujikami Shrine. This part of town was very calm and old-timey with only few tourists around. The shrine is the oldest shrine structure in Japan and is surrounded by trees. Going on from there, we went along the river bank until we reached a bridge which led us via a small island to the other side of the river, right next to Byodoin. While we had encountered only a handful of sightseers on the West bank, Byodoin was much more developed for tourism. Located in spacious grounds around a pond, Aji-ike, its central focus is Ho-o-do which is said to resemble a rising phoenix. All over the grounds, there were vases with blooming lotus to be seen. Visitors are led along a path which leads automatically through the Byodoin Museum Hoshokan, a modern concrete structure that cleverly blends into the landscape so that you barely notice it at all until you’re inside. The interior of the museum is very striking with its grave-like dark halls. Back outside, we hit a street parallel to the river lined with touristic shops and restaurants. Here, the final part of our visit was concluded: buying green tea to bring home. As the Uji region is one of the most famous tea growing regions in Japan, we had to get our tea right at the source. Almost every second shop is selling tea, or otherwise Japanese sweets based on tea. Of course we also had to get some Shin-cha, the new tea which was harvested in May of this year. While matcha-flavored soft-serve ice-cream is a staple all over Japan, in Uji you can find some much more intense-tasting varieties of a deep green hue, often even with actual matcha powder dusted on top. Even if you’re not a green tea aficionado, you cannot miss the matcha ice cream of Uji!
If we had had more time, I would have definitely wanted to visit Mimuroto-ji, a temple on a nearby hill, which has a famous hydrangea garden which is in bloom from mid-June to mid-July.