10 Things to Do in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture on Your First Visit

10 Things to Do in Uji — Kyoto Prefecture’s Underrated City

The dream destination for matcha lovers and history buffs!

When you think of Kyoto Prefecture in Japan, you’re probably picturing the thousand torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine, the 1,200-year-old temple Kiyomizu-dera, or the stunning golden temple, Kinkakuji. Perhaps even the lush greenery of Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. But you’re probably not imagining Uji, the birthplace of Japanese matcha. I had a chance to visit Uji on a family trip to the Kansai region of Japan back in May 2023, and it was the most relaxing and memorable part of the holiday.

You may have heard of Uji Matcha, the premium-grade matcha of Japan, but being there to see the green streets and smell the freshly brewed tea is really an experience not to be missed. Apart from being surrounded by matcha, there are lots of other unique things to do in Uji, Kyoto, from visiting temples to taking a boat ride along the Uji River. Read on to discover more about what to do in Uji on your next trip to Japan!

Also read: 12 Gorgeous Airbnbs in Kyoto for Every Kind of Traveller

Best tea-related things to do in Uji

1. Shop for souvenirs along Byodo-in Omotesando

Byodo-In Omotesando, things to do in uji

Image credit: Jessie Lee

Welcome to Byodo-in Omotesando, a paradise for matcha and tea lovers. Here, you can find numerous tea products made from Ujicha, the famed tea from Uji. The Kyoto city has been a hub for tea cultivation since the 13th century. The different types of Ujicha include Uji Matcha (premium powdered green tea), Uji Sencha (sun-exposed tea leaves), and Uji Hojicha (roasted tea leaves). All tea varieties are top-quality and available in canisters or packets. 

Apart from the tea itself, you can get tea-flavoured snacks like matcha candy and biscuits. If you want to take your love for matcha to the next level, there are also an array of makeup products, soap, and even bath salts. This place never fails to surprise me with its selection of tea souvenirs. As the name suggests, the street ends in front of Byodo-in Temple, so after a serene temple experience, you can go forth on your shopping spree. 

2. Savour a matcha-flavoured meal

matcha gyoza, things to do in uji

Image credit: Jessie Lee

When we say matcha-flavoured products, they aren’t just limited to desserts, snacks, and cosmetics. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a restaurant menu full of matcha delicacies: matcha ramen, matcha soba, matcha gyoza, and even matcha curry! You can easily find such restaurants during your tour around the city. According to friends who had a taste of these unique dishes like matcha soba, the matcha flavour is not overpowering, making it palatable and worth a try. 

3. Indulge in matcha desserts

parfait and matcha ice cream

Image credit(L-R): Swanya Charoonwatana via Canva Pro; Jessie Lee

Why not try some delectable matcha desserts on the home grounds of matcha? You can find shops along Byodo-in Omotesando to order desserts and dine in. Parfaits, mochi, choux cream buns — these are just some matcha-flavoured desserts to satisfy your sweet cravings! 

Here’s one dessert I absolutely recommend: matcha ice cream. I tried one from the dessert shop, Masuda Chaho, and the creamy and thick texture of the ice cream was like nothing I had ever tried before. Moreover, they sprinkled matcha powder over the ice cream, giving you a burst of flavour that didn’t come off as too bitter, either. We bought other flavours, such as hojicha, but nothing beats the matcha ice cream. Without a doubt, it confidently claimed the crown on my list of favourite culinary delights for that trip!

Also read: Japanese Snacks Guide: Best Japanese Snacks to Try!

4. Tour the Marukyu Koyamaen Matcha Factory

Wouldn’t you love to see how matcha is processed before it goes into your stomach? Visit the Marukyu Koyamaen Matcha Factory, where the magic happens! Marukyu Koyamaen is a popular brand that has been cultivating and manufacturing tea for over 300 years.

stone mill, matcha powder

Stone mill in Uji | Image credit: Jessie Lee

The tour takes you through the detailed process of making this special Japanese tea. Be mesmerised by the rows of stone mills that spin in unison, surrounded by matcha powder. Then, you’ll also learn about how the tea is inspected to ensure the high quality of the products. After walking through the stations, you’ll have a chance to try different types of matcha and purchase tea products to complete your experience here. 

Note: You will need to make a booking in advance to visit. 

5. Take part in a tea ceremony at Taihoan Tea House

If you are wondering what to do in Uji, book a sadō (tea ceremony) experience and immerse yourself in Japanese culture. The best place would be Taihoan Tea House, located just across the Byodo-in Temple. At the tea house, discover how matcha is prepared for the tea ceremony, and learn the proper etiquette, such as the proper way of holding the cup. As the tea can be bitter, they serve it with wagashi, a dessert made of rice flour and red bean. Enjoy the calmness of sitting on the tatami mats in a traditional tearoom while appreciating the richness of the tea. 

Also read: 5 ‘Rules’ in Japan That Aren’t as Strict as We Thought After All

What to do in Uji if you like nature and culture

6. Visit Byodo-in Temple

Byodo-in temple, uji attractions

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Apart from being the centre for tea production, Uji is also home to many temples and shrines, making it a very culturally rich destination. One of the top things to do in Uji has to be seeing the Byodo-in Temple. This UNESCO World Heritage site was built all the way back in 998 as a rural villa and was later converted into a temple in 1052. 

The temple’s main hall, the Phoenix Hall, is one of the most iconic buildings in Japan and is featured on the 10 yen coin. Truly, the stunning red building is a sight to behold. The gardens surrounding the temple also make for some great trip photos, and I enjoyed the tranquillity and zen feeling when I was there.

7. Explore Ujigami Shrine

torii gate, ujigami shrine

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Uji has not one, but two UNESCO World Heritage sites: One being Byodo-in Temple, and the other being Ujigami Shrine. This Shinto shrine was built in the 11th century, making it one of the oldest surviving shrines in Japan. The shrine was built to honour Emperor Ojin, the 15th emperor of Japan, and his sons. Here, you are welcomed by a towering torii gate before you get to see the thousand-year-old shrine. 

On the way there, spot the rabbit statues and fabric designs, a symbol in Uji from a tale of a guiding divine rabbit. If you can’t get enough of these adorable figures, purchase some rabbit charms and talismans from the shrine, and they’ll be sure to protect you, too!

8. Discover the world’s oldest novel in The Tale of Genji Museum

Did you know that the oldest novel came from Japan? The Tale of Genji Museum in Uji showcases the artefacts, artworks, and manuscripts that illustrate the famous novel, The Tale of Genji. Written by a woman named Murasaki Shikibu, this classic piece of Japanese literature revolves around the life of a fictional son of the emperor during the Heian Era. As Uji was used as a setting in a few chapters of the novel, the museum pays tribute to the story it inspired. 

This is where you get to experience interactive displays, such as life-sized character models and detailed scene recreations. Throughout the year, there are also themed events such as performances, lectures, and workshops, promising you an immersive and educational experience!

9. Snap photos along Uji Bridge

uji bridge, what to do in uji

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The historic Uji Bridge is located over the Uji River and is a popular spot for photos. Originally built in the 7th century, the bridge has undergone several reconstructions over the centuries. Now, it is a bridge for vehicles and pedestrians alike. You can get the best view of the detailed wooden architecture from the side; a stunning angle to fully capture the beauty of the bridge.

10. Ride on a boat down the Uji River

Uji River, wooden boat

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You’ve probably heard of cruise and boat rides in other cities in Japan, such as the one along the Dotonbori River in Osaka. But what about getting on a wooden boat to cruise along the Uji River? The boat functions as a cruise tour for tourists during the day, then becomes a vessel for cormorant fishing at night. 

Take a scenic tour around Uji, a picturesque city any time of the year. Bask in the romantic atmosphere with rows of sakura trees in full bloom in spring, and enjoy the red and yellow hues that fill the city in autumn. This is one of the perfect ways to visit Uji attractions for your tired legs, especially after walking around the city. 

Getting to Uji from Kyoto City

kyoto station

Image credit: Jessie Lee

While Uji is on the outskirts of Kyoto Prefecture, it really isn’t all too far from Kyoto City. We took the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station to JR Uji Station, and it took less than 30 minutes. 

Alternatively, you can get on the Keihan main line from popular stations in Kyoto, such as Tofukuji Station and Kiyomizu Gojo Station. Afterwards, just transfer out to the Keihan Uji Line to get to Keihan Uji Station. Your total travel time wouldn’t go beyond an hour, making Uji perfect for a day trip to experience the serene side of Kyoto Prefecture. The great thing about Uji is you can explore the whole city on foot. But if you aren’t up for a lot of walking, there are buses that operate within the city. 

Also read: 23 Top Things to Do in Kyoto on Your Very First Visit

On your next journey to Kyoto, be sure to visit this hidden gem. There are just so many things to do in Uji: lose yourself in the tranquillity of ancient temples and shrines or immerse yourself in a day dedicated entirely to the delights of matcha. And why not dress for the occasion? Don a verdant outfit to blend in with the city’s green hues. Although, let me warn you: After visiting Uji, you might need a little respite from the colour green — I know I certainly did.

About Author

Jessie Lee

Jessie is a writer and an avid dreamer. She enjoys quiet time pondering over new ideas and stories. If she isn't dreaming about her next travel destination, she's probably engrossed in anime and K-dramas.