Uji, Japan – Byodo-in Temple

Day Trip to Uji, Kyoto Prefecture

The following day after my trip to NaraI set out early in the morning with a new friend from my hostel. Jenni had spent a year living in and exploring the old capital city and neighboring towns. For her this was a trip down memory lane. For me, my first adventure to Japan’s most famous tea town. Ignoring how terrible my Japanese is, I’m really bad at finding my way around using train lines and likely to spend half the day delayed if not totally lost. So it goes without saying I was super lucky to tag along with Jenni to Uji.

What is there to see in Uji?

The temple compound cost 600 Yen to enter with an optional 300 Yen extra to enter the inside of the Phoenix (Amida) Hall; the only remaining original section of the temple. Jenni and I opted to skip the hall, party because we are cheap travelers but also because of the line which you can see below was backed up quite a bit even with the rain. The basic entry includes entry into the Byodo-in Temple Museum that houses all the historic treasures of the temple! Taking pictures inside the museum is discouraged, so out of respect for the temple we simply admired the beautiful works of art. The temple dates back to 998 when it was originally constructed as a villa before being converted to a Buddhist Temple, so the artwork is spectacular!

The Temple itself is built like a Phoenix flying with outstretched wings and a long tail. If you look closely, see photo below, you can see two small Phoenix ornaments on the center roof facing the main hall that houses the great statue of Amida. The temple is of such cultural significance you can see it on the 10 Yen coin, and the 10,000 Yen note has the image of the Phoenix. I did not have a 10,000 yen bill on me at the time haha. The compound is quite large and includes an extensive “Pure Land Garden” which  is quite magnificent stroll through, although you have to stay on the main paths (others are roped off) which is customary of most temples in Japan.

After the museum, you can find the gift shop. I’m not a huge fan of gift shops, however I did take the opportunity to buy my first Omamori (Guide) and a postcard as a souvenir! Yes, it rained the entire day Jenni and I were in Uji. It’s important to remind yourself that not everyday is picture perfect; the rain didn’t stop or the crowds, but we had fun anyway.  Plus green tea is extra nice stepping in from the rain! One weird thing to mention is that there is a replica of the Byodo-in Temple in Hawaii, so if you are researching it, don’t get them confused!

Resources on the Byodo-in Temple

This small shrine tucked away nearby Byodo-in Temple is Japan’s oldest original monument of Nagare-Zukuri Style of Architecture. The Shrine’s construction dates back to 1060 AD in the honor of Emperor Nintoku’s Brother who, in order to resolve a dispute of succession, committed suicide. Throw in some dark clouds, rain and gusty winds, and the shrine takes on a somber if not slightly eerie atmosphere.

The Japanese are somewhat famous for their sense of honor: Samurai would perform Seppuku’ (切腹), a suicide ritual of disembowelment (Katana through the gut) rather than be taken alive and tortured for information.  Emperor Nintoku was the fourth son of Emperor Ojin, and ruled over 700 years prior to the Shrine’s construction and dedication to the family. The appreciation for the history alone is admirable and perhaps one of the reasons Ujigami Shrine is one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sights of “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto“.

Walking around downtown Kyoto or Osaka, with all the giant skyscrapers and shopping centers, it’s easy to forget you are visiting a nation and culture that is thousands of years old. Japan can trace back it’s history to before the rise of the Roman Republic! Of course, not all monuments are grand like the Byodo-in Temple or Osaka Castle, some are small but have stood for centuries as the world around it continuously changes. So I encourage you to take a breath, relax  and feel the history! One day, you’ll be gone and this little shrine will persist, assuming no earthquakes, to be visited by many more tourists from all around the world.

The last thing worth including is Uji’s significant contribution to the Japanese Green Tea industry (O-Cha お茶). The chinese Zen Buddhist priest brought the drink and plants over from China in the 9th century. Very much like today’s celebrities, once the drink became popular among the nobles it spread throughout all of Japan. The Tsuen Tea Shop, (2nd Link) located on the eastern side of the riverfront is Japan’s oldest tea shop, kept within the same family for 24 generations in the same location since 1160 AD.  The shop has been visited by none other than Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Takugawa Ieyasu, some of Japan’s most famous historical figures covered in our Osaka Castle article. Check the links below for Uji guides and information on tea tours!

Quick Links to Green Tea in Uji

The Tale of Genji

Let me introduce “The Tale of Genji“: Arguably the first novel ever written. Authored by a noblewoman, Murasaki Shibiku, in the 11th century. The final chapters take place in Uji City. So if you love historic literature, you’ll want to pick up a translated copy and bring it along for a picnic by  the riverside at Furitsu Uji Park. This book dives into the life and culture of court in Kyoto’s feudal Japanese society. It is a topic that deserves it’s own piece.

My impression of Uji

I absolutely loved my trip to Uji, but I didn’t know half the things I know now having researched a little bit about the city and sights. Looks like I have an excuse to go back! The history of the town is so rich; it really feels like the cradle of modern Japan is hidden between Kyoto-Shi and Nara-Shi. It must be the small towner in me, as I felt most at ease and anxious exploring the quiet streets riddled with hidden temples and shrines. I was debating whether I should include this first picture seeing as Jenni and I both got drenched, but I couldn’t resist! It was such a fun day despite the weather!

Directions to Uji from Kyoto

The town of Uji lies outside of Kyoto, between Nara City, also within an easy commute by train from Osaka. So a day trip is pretty easy.

  • From Kyoto Central
  • Take the JR Nara Line for 24 minutes
  • Get off at Uji Station
  • 30-40 minutes Start to Finish and cost 240 to 390 Yen

There are several routes to get from Osaka Namba Station to Uji. I try and avoid taking buses whenever possible as it complicates connections.

  • From Namba Osaka Station
  • Take the Midosuji Line (Orange) to Yodoyabashi Station 3 stops away
  • There will be directions to change platforms to the Keihan Main Line (red)
  • Take the express train to Chushojima Station (44 mins & 11 stops away)
  • Transfer at Chushojima to the Keihan Uji Line (Also red)
  • Get off at Uji Station
  • The whole trip will take 1h 30 minutes and cost 590 Yen

Check out Navitime Apps that make it really easy to travel around Japan. Also Mapsme or google maps. If you get lost, you can always ask a train officer at the station, they are super friendly.


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