Uji is famous for green tea and being the town of The Tale of Genji/Genji Monogatori. Considered to be the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu in 1008 AD. This year marks the celebration of a 1000 years of Genji, so Uji has many special events planned.
We went to Uji for three reasons:
1) Since I did a drawing class project on Murasaki Shikibu, I've been interested in her life. Still haven't read The Tale of Genji, but I'm going to make it a goal once I return to Canada.
2) Uji is Kamloops' sister city.
3) There's an opportunity to do an economical tea ceremony that doesn't require complication reservations like the teahouses in Kyoto.
When you enter Uji, a gate welcomes you with an image of Genji and his famous Uji lady. (See how I cleverly avoid pointing out that I don't know what her name actually is.)
After Kyoto, most Japanese cities seem more difficult to navigate. Kyoto was built on a grid—a trait only shared with Sapporo. All other Japanese cities twist and turn. Even with a map and simple-sounding directions to the Uji City Tea Research Center, we managed to get lost. A short trip through the very residential area later, we found Byoudoin Temple—a world heritage site. We planned to go there later, as the tea ceremony place closed first. (It may or may not actually be called Uji City Tea Research Center. I seem to think it is, but I could totally be making that up.)
Tea ceremony is an interesting experience—well, to be fair everything is an "interesting" experience when you don't understand a great deal of Japanese. I'm not sure I really sure it's something I'd feel the need to do again, as tea to me is instinctively linked to causal conversation. And cake. We had silence and hagi/clover-flavored mochi cake instead.
After the tea ceremony we went to Byoudoin, which is on the ten yen coin. At some point we got in the middle of a tour group of elderly Japanese travelers. (I swear I heard one of them call me Inari-chan. They must have grankids who watch Wagaya no Oinari-sama or the Japanese hive-mind is at work again.)
Perhaps what I liked most about Uji was eating green tea ice cream along the bank of the Shirokawa. Sitting there with the river on either side of me and the mountains rising to my back, it felt like Kamloops.