The town of Uji lies mid-way between the popular tourist locations of Kyoto and Nara. This makes it a convenient day trip today, but also played a major factor in its development. It flourished as a trading hub between the two cities, but also developed its own unique culture.
Uji reached its peak during the Heian period, from the 8th to 12th Century and the most interesting places to visit today date back to this time. The Byodoin temple was built in the year 998, originally as a villa for the powerful leader Fujiwara no Michinaga, His son had it converted into a temple and added the large Phoenix Hall. This beautifully constructed area still contains original statues of the Buddha. Unlike many such wooden halls, it has never been destroyed by fire and remains one of the few structures in the country to survive intact from this period. As an aside, find it on the 10 Yen coin!
Nearby Ujigami shrine was built as a guardian shrine of the Byodoin temple, around the year 1060. It is the oldest standing shrine in Japan, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Uji is also highly regarded for its top quality green tea. Whilst it is thought that tea was first cultivated at the temples in nearby Kyoto, the town and temples of Uji became well known from the 12th Century onward for producing the highest quality tea. This reputation is maintained today and there are many teashops in the town where tea can be tasted and purchased.
Byodoin temple open daily 8.30am to 5.30pm. Entrance fee: 600 Yen, plus 300 Yen for the Phoenix Hall.
Ujigami shrine open daily 9am to 4.30pm. Entrance free.