Uji - the small town with a world-wide reputation

Ask anyone about main gyokuro producing areas in Japan and one of the first names they will come up with is Uji, a small town on the outskirts of Kyoto. Given its reputation as an important tea centre, it can be disconcerting to arrive and see no sign of any tea plantations near the center. (They are all situated in the mountainous areas further out of town). However venturing further into the town's backstreets one can find clear evidence of its tea producing culture.
Uji is also famous as the home of the imposing Byodoin Temple, featured on the Japanese 10 yen coin ( see above). When you cross the street in front of the station and enter the approach to the temple you find yourself in a shopping street straight out of a samurai movie set with old-style teashops still sporting ancient signs and the classic "noren" ( a kind of curtain hung in front of the door to indicate that the store is open) featuring a cross inside a circle, the traditional symbol for teashops.
We found ourselves drawn into the Nakamura Tokichi teashop, which proved deceptively large despite the small unimposing entrance. Walking through the tea-store with its tea-tasting area, we entered an airy courtyard, home to a modern cafe with a menu boasting all kinds of green tea themed treats. Green tea noodles are either served warm in a mild broth or cold over ice in a bamboo dish. Both are delicious and light enough to leave room for dessert. Pictured is the matcha sundae served in an old-fashioned tea jar.
Matcha ice-cream, red bean paste and soft white dumplings combine to create an explosion of different tastes in the mouth ... out of this world!

A walk along the river after lunch led us to the Fukujuen tea company's Uji workshop. Housed in a traditional building in a beautiful setting, the company offers workshops on a number of themes. With prior reservation you can try your hand at rolling your own tea leaves using a technique known as "te-momi", or creating your own matcha with a grindstone. Courses on tea ceremony etiquette and pottery painting are also available.
If you prefer your pleasures ready-made, the store on the first floor has a good selection of Fukujuen's finest teas, all nicely packaged and perfect as gifts or as a special treat for oneself!

A day in Uji, exploring its cultural delights will lead to a deeper understanding of the Japanese tea culture and also leave a lasting impression of beauty, tranquility and the sense of having experienced history firsthand.

Copyright 2008 Artistic Nippon by Yoshikawa Toki Co. All rights reserved.
[Artistic Nippon Home]