Uji, The City of Green Tea

October 09, 2016

There are many notable cities in Japan. Some were once old capitals, host to cultural relics, or important trading posts. The country’s capital of today is Tokyo, but it used to move around quite frequently. Nara and Kyoto were two ancient capitals, but between them lies another important place. Uji, the second largest city in Kyoto Prefecture, is a city of great cultural, political, and historical importance.

History of Uji

The view from Uji Bridge

The view from Uji Bridge

The city was founded in 1951, but even before that, many exciting events had already taken place. Uji was home to one of Emperor Ojin’s sons during the 4th century. Three battles occurred during the 12th and 13th centuries. It also served as an important gateway, strategically located near Nara, Kyoto, and Shiga.

It is a scenic place, surrounded by lush greens and the bubbling Uji River. Above that is Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in the country. The vibrant foliage makes a lovely backdrop, with colors that change depending on the season. All of this makes it an ideal setting for many works of literature, including the later chapters from The Tale of Genji. In fact, there is a museum dedicated to the novel right in the city.

The Tale of Genji monument, near Uji River Source: Jim G via Flickr

The Tale of Genji monument, near Uji River
Source: Jim G via Flickr

The Tale of Genji Museum
Address: 45-26- Uji-Higashiuchi, Uji City, Kyoto 611-0021
Hours: 9am – 5pm; closed Mondays and Dec. 28 – Jan. 3
Phone: 81-774-39-9300
Cost: 500 yen for adults, 250 for children
Website: http://www.uji-genji.jp/en/

 

The main building, Phoenix Hall, at Byodo-in Source: T.Kiya via Flickr

The main building, Phoenix Hall, at Byodo-in
Source: T.Kiya via Flickr

Uji also has many historical and cultural buildings. Numerous shrines and temples dot the landscape, including a World Heritage Site, Byodo-in, which is depicted on the 10 yen coin. Located at the temple site is the famous Phoenix Hall, built in 1053, as well as other national treasures. The majestic hall is the only building to survive the fire and destruction of the 1336 civil war.

Byodo-in Temple
Address: 116 Ujirenge, Uji City, Kyoto 611-0021
Phone: 81-774-21-2861
Cost: 600 yen for adults, 400 for middle school/high school students, 300 for elementary school students (additional 300 yen required to view interior of Phoenix Hall)
Website: http://www.byodoin.or.jp/ja/en.html

A Center for Green Tea

Source: By vera46 - IMG_1060.JPG, CC 表示 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8322254

Source: By vera46 via Wikipedia as per CC by 2.0

From as early as the 12th century, tea has been a part of Uji. Around 1191, thanks to a Buddhist monk by the name of Eisai, drinking tea became fashionable and widespread instead of just being medicinal. Another Buddhist monk planted the first tea tree in Obuku, Uji. During the next century, the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu  promoted the growth of green tea and the place soon blossomed into a tea powerhouse. He also created a collection of seven, special tea gardens known as Uji Shichimeien (The Seven Famous Gardens). Conditions were ideal for cultivating the plant, and Uji soon came to rival even the great tea growers in neighboring Kyoto.

Old artwork of Sen no Rikyu Source: wikimedia commons

Old artwork of Sen no Rikyu
Source: wikimedia commons

The next step in the growth of Uji tea fame comes from one of the most influential tea masters, Sen no Rikyu. He was a prominent figure who often stopped by to taste Uji tea and hold tea ceremonies, cementing the city’s status as the producer of the best green tea. The tea was so highly regarded that Uji tea farmers were given the privilege of producing tea for the Imperial Family.

Tsuyuhikari Green Tea Powder

Uji Processing Method

A famous tea center must have some special technique of its own, right? This processing method was invented by Soen Nagatani in 1738, and is still the standard when processing modern day green tea. The process involves  steam-drying and kneading the leaves instead of roasting them. This creates a fuller, fresher flavor. Previously the carefully hoarded treasure among the wealthy, this new method made green tea more accessible to the populace, and furthered its development.

Superior Quality, Superior Taste

For years, Uji tea signified premium quality tea, and many were purchased as fine gifts. It is still highly regarded today, being one of the city’s greatest exports. A characteristic of Uji green tea is that it is shade-grown to protect from frost and allow for fragrant leaves. The region has a prestigious reputation for producing a variety of teas, from sencha to gyokuro to tencha. The area of Obuku, with its temperate climate and mineral-rich soil, is an ideal farmland and produces some of the rarest, finest teas.  Another major player is Ujitawara, which also has a good climate and is situated close to the river. The techniques of the local tea farmers are said to make the tea even more delicious.

With time comes changes. Buildings and telephone lines crop up, crowding the skyline. Of the seven famous tea gardens, only one exists to this day. All is not lost, however, and Uji still represents one of the strongest symbols of Japan. Even now, it is known as a producer of superior green tea. The beverage is not likely to lose its throne anytime soon, and tea ceremonies still hold a place of honor. Take the time to see the area for yourself, and become immersed in what it has to offer. As a bastion of Japanese tea culture, it is well worth the visit.

 

The post Uji, The City of Green Tea appeared first on YUNOMI.




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