Zen Kyoto

City of Uji

Zen Kyoto Title

Uji is one of the oldest cities in Japan. The city is located on the southern outskirts of the Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. Founded on March 1, 1951, Uji is located between the two ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto. Historically developed as a center of transportation, there are main streets connecting Kyoto, Nara, and the eastern provinces and the Uji Bridge extending over the fast-flowing Uji River.

Indeed, the city sits on the Uji River, which has its source in Lake Biwa. Uji has an estimated population of 200,000. The city has been celebrated for its tea for almost a thousand years. The tea industry became important for Uji in the Muromachi Era, and flourished when the reputation of Uji tea grew.

The local governor also controlled teas during the Edo Era, and tea was presented to the shogunate by the teapot procession ("Chatsubo Dochu") which marched to Edo. It was said that villagers would line the streets to welcome the daimyo's procession as well as to see it off.

There had been vast tea plantations surrounding the city. Umonji en tea plantation, one of the so called “Uji shichi meien” (the seven farmed tea plantations in Uji) was located here. And Chashi or the tea manufacturers kept their stores along the street on the south of Umonji-en. Some buildings which were once their stores along the street still remain - they are now called Ujibashi deri to remind us of the old Chashi town. Uji Kambayashi Museum (Tea Museum), opened at one of those buildings, houses many historic materials and tells the story of Uji cha or Uji Tea Manufacture to visitors.

During the cherry blossom season, the bridge that spans the Uji river makes for a breathtaking walk. The Tea Festival takes place on the first Sunday of October. Uji takes its water seriously as it is a city of tea. In this festival, rituals which involve drawing of water from the Uji river are performed. Costumes are worn, prayers of thanks are said to the luminaries of tea history, tea-tasting competitions are held, and best of all, there is free tea on offer.

The Byodoin

The Byodoin was originally a rural villa belonging to Fujiwara no Michinaga. In 1052, his son Yorimichi converted the villa into a Buddhist temple and the following year built its main feature, the Hoodo or Phoenix Hall. Enshrined in the Phoenix Hall is a large image of the Amida Buddha carved by Jocho, the leading Buddhist sculptor of the day. Yorimichi and his descendants added to the temple over the years erecting such structures as a Hokkedo (lotus hall), a Godaido (a hall dedicated to the Five Wise Kings), a sutra library, a treasure house, and a pagoda. The whole complex was an exquisite representation of Jodo Buddhism’s Pure Land heaven. Nearly all of the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1336 during the historic clash between Ashikaga Takauji and Kusunoki Masashige. Today, only the Phoenix Hall, the Kannon Hall, and the Bell Tower still remain. The temple’s fire Heian-period garden, designated as a major historical garden, has served as a model for the gardens of many temples and shrines built thereafter. The Byodoin is the representative symbol of Heian-period aristocratic culture and Jodo Buddhist art.

Important historical and cultural landmarks of the Kinki region, both ancient and contemporary, are dotted along the Rekishi Kaido (Historical Byway).

Uji City in the Heian-Muromachi period zone encompasses an indigenous Japanese culture symbolized by the native kana literature that developed and flourished during that time; the shift from an aristocratic society to one ruled by the warrior class; and the contrasting cultural mores of courtly elegance and Zen austerity. The Phoenix hall of the Heian-period Byodoin and the many sites and scenes portrayed in the Tale of Genji’s final chapters, commonly known as the “10 Uji chapters” give the city of Uji a regal air reminiscent of a glorious and magnificent imperial era.