During the Heian period, Uji was originally known as a place where royals kept their villas and became famous for tea production after the Edo period. In this article we will introduce some places you won't want to miss in Uji, focusing on historical sites.
Near the end of the Heian Period (794 - 1185) it was widely believed that the world was entering an age of decadence where humans would fall off the path of good. The royalty at the time prayed for Gokuraku Jodo (Sukhavati, or Land of bliss) and put their energy into building buildings that enshrined Buddha and the gods. Byodoin Hoo-do was one of the buildings created to bring Gokuraku Jodo to this world. It was built by Fujiwara no Yorimichi, a politician, around 1,000 years ago and is now recognized as a world heritage site. There are a number of national treasures residing there, such as Wooden Amida Nyorai Seated Statue and Wooden Unchu Kuyo Bosatsu Statues (Buddhist Saints holding a mass in the clouds) all made by Jocho, a famous Heian-era sculptor of Buddha statues. The temple is known for being the face of the Japanese ten yen coin. Byodoin Hoo-do has beautiful gardens and standing above the lake that surrounds it, the temple almost looks as if it is floating. You don’t want miss the beautiful reflection of the temple over the water. At the nearby Byodoin Museum Hoshokan” you can see a CG-restored historical photography exhibition as well as high quality movie of the temple. You’ll be able to experience the extravagant, dazzling world of the time for yourself.
Admission fee: 600 JPY for adults, 400 JPY for middle and high school students, and 300 JPY for elementary students.
1. Byodoin Hoo-do
Only about a 10 minute walk away from Byodoin Hoo-do is Ujigami Shrine. It was built in the latter half of the Heian period around the year 1060. The shine enshrines Uji no Waki Iratsuko, Emperor Oujin, and Emperor Nintoku. It's not a particularly large shrine but it was designated as a world heritage site in 1994. The front shrine (the building where people pray) was built during the beginning of the Kamakura period (around 1185 - 1333) in the Shinden-zukuri style (architectural style of high ranking nobles' houses of the Heian period). The still-standing inner sanctuary (the part of a shrine where deities are enshrined), built around 1060 during the Heian period, is the oldest constructed piece of shrine architecture in Japan and is designated as a national treasure and is popular with visitors for its quiet solemnity where you can feel the history around you. Near the inner sanctuary is a large rock called Tenkouseki (a now obsolete word for meteorite) where people can pile small rocks on and pray as well as a sacred tree that's over 300 years old.
Admission fee: free entrance to the shrine grounds
2. Ujigami Shrine
Manpuku-ji, the head temple of the Obaku Buddhism sect, is surrounded by nature. It was established in Uji by Ingen, a famous Ming (Chinese dynasty from 1368 - 1644) monk at the request of the Edo Shogunate (the ruling government from 1603 - 1867). Since the architecture, statues of Buddha, and the rituals are all in the Ming style, it feels different from most Japanese temples. The beautiful look, rich tasting Fucha cuisine, a Ming-style vegetarian cuisine made with vegetable oils, is very popular. They have a Fucha cuisine course (5,000 JPY (excl. tax)), Fucha bento (3,000 JPY (excl. tax)) and other Fucha cuisine foods which you can buy by reservation. It's a great chance to see a bit of Ming culture that had a huge impact on Edo culture. Definitely a must see in Uji!
Admission fee: 500 JPY for adults, university, and high school students and 300 JPY for middle and elementary school students.
3. Obaku Buddhism Head Temple Manpuku-ji
Mimuroto-ji was built around 1200 years ago at the imperial prayer of then-emperor Konin as a temple to worship the thousand-armed Kannon bodhisattva (a Buddhist object of worship with a strong power to save people) as its principle object of worship. It is a temple with a long history and it only opens its treasure collection to the public on the 17th of every month which contains Heian-era Buddhist statues that are designated as important cultural artifacts. It is also known as the "hydrangea temple" and the "flower temple" due to its large gardens where flowers bloom throughout the seasons. You can see azaleas in the spring, hydrangeas in early summer, and the autumn leaves in the fall. During the Edo period it was a famous place to view autumn leaves and was chosen as one of the twelve views of Uji. You can enjoy the changing scenery walking around the pond in the "chisen kaiyu" style garden (a type of Japanese garden with a path surrounding a pond) as well as in the nearby dry landscape garden, composed entirely out of rock and sand. You can enjoy the unusual beauty of Japanese gardens to your heart's content. There is also a famous statue of a cow on the grounds called Houshou Ushi. If you touch the Kannon (Buddha carving) on the statue, it is supposed to bring you good luck so give it try!
Admission fee is 500 JPY for adults and children 300 JPY. The special exhibit held on the 17th of every month is an extra 300 JPY.
"The Tale of Genji" is a long novel totaling over 54 chapters based on the lives of Heian period nobles. It was written around 1,000 years ago by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu and is known as the defining work of Japanese literature. The third part of "The Tale of Genji" is referred to as the "Uji Chapters" due to its setting in Uji. At the Tale of Genji Museum you can experience the world of "The Tale of Genji" for yourself! There are a number of exhibits with reconstructed models, manuscripts, documents, and videos that will take you into the Genji world. Inspired by the large role of smell in the novel, the fragrance exhibition is especially popular. Even if you aren't familiar with "The Tale of Genji," you can still enjoy the elegance of Heian era Japan, but to truly get the most out of the experience we recommend reading up on it before hand. It's near the Ujigami Shrine, so you can easily go to both together!
Admission fee: Adults 500 JPY, children (elementary, middle school students) 250 JPY.
5. The Tale of Genji Museum
How did you like our picks? There are so many places in Uji filled with history and beautiful nature. If you get tired, just grab a cup of tea and go for a walk!
*Please note that the prices and other information in the article may not be the most up-to-date information
*Some temples are occasionally closed to visitors for Buddhist memorial services and other functions
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.