Every year hordes of tourists are drawn to Kyoto's historical streets. Images of places like Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine and Kinkakuji Temple pop up on newsfeeds and social networking sites, inspiring more and more people to buy tickets to Japan to see these famous destinations in person. While Kyoto is quite well set up for tourists, and largely dependent on the revenue that they bring to the city, navigating the confusing system of trains, buses, and unfamiliar streets can be daunting. There are limitless options for travel and numerous companies boasting the best package or the most conveniently placed stations. With all these options to choose from, how can you decide? With so many choices, many tourists overlook the services offered by Keihan Railway, one of the better-known companies offering transportation throughout Kyoto and Osaka. Keihan Railway operates local trains throughout the two cities, as well as more expensive premium car and express train options for visitors with sore feet who are tired of standing. I had the opportunity to visit Kyoto recently and traveled exclusively with Keihan Railway and its affiliates. I found the locations and travel options to be well located, comfortable, and convenient.
After exploring Fushimi Sake District, I hopped on the Keihan Uji Line from Chushojima Station and took a brief train ride to Uji Station. Uji is located near some truly beautiful historic temples, and some very traditional areas, so the modern feel of the station surprised me. It was one of the most unique train stations I have ever been to and I had to snap a few photos. I stopped by the tourist information center to pick up an English map of the area and made my way to the famous Byodoin Temple.
If you happen to have any Japanese coins on you at the moment, take a look at the 10 yen coin. The building depicted on the back of the coin is Byodoin Temple. The temple was originally built in the 11th century and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the original buildings of Byodoin Temple have been lost due to fire or war, but a few structures remain for visitors to see. Byodoin is one of the quintessential images of Kyoto. The beautiful architecture paired with the layout of the building—resting atop the smooth surface of the pond—is a perfect example of why Kyoto remains a top destination for tourists. Visitors can walk around the perimeter of the pond and visit the museum located inside the grounds. Byodoin Temple is easy to access from Uji Station, just cross Uji Bridge outside the station and follow the road to the temple entrance.
Uji’s Famous Green Tea
The street leading up to the entrance of Byodoin, Uji Byodoin Omotesando, is home to a number of green tea shops. If you are interested in matcha (finely powdered green tea) stop by some of the shops on your way to pick up matcha-flavored ice cream, jelly or pancakes. Uji is famous for its green tea and you can buy packaged tea to bring home as a souvenir for your friends.
A Traditional Green Tea Ceremony
If you do happen to like green tea, then definitely stop by Taihouan Tea House. The traditional wooden house is located next to the river and a visitor’s center. No reservation is needed, just pick up tickets at the visitors center and wait outside the shop until they call you inside. The tea ceremony only costs 500 yen and lasts about 15 minutes. After you enter the teashop, the women who host the ceremony will seat you and any other guests on the tatami floors. They serve beautifully handmade sweets as the tea ceremony host prepares a cup of fresh tea. Nearby, another woman explains the process. It is definitely a nice experience and a way to take a short break from the crowded shopping street outside.
Seasonal Flowers at Mimurotoji Temple
Mimurotoji is famous for its flowers and autumn colors, which offer something to see year-round. Starting in April visitors can see cherry blossoms; in early May azaleas bloom on the grounds; in June the hydrangeas begin to gain their color; lotuses are in bloom in July and August. During the colder months, autumn colors draw crowds, so it really is worth seeing any time of year.
Manpukuji Temple’s Zen Buddhism
Mapukuji Temple is the head of the Obaku Sect, one of the three main sects of Zen Buddhism in Japan. The temple follows many Chinese rituals, making it unique among temples in Japan. There’s lot to see on the temple grounds, so make sure to follow the paved paths around the entire temple.
Originally from Seattle and currently living in Japan for four years now, working as a writer and an English teacher. The Kansai area is one of my favorite places to visit in Japan because I think it offers so much to do and see. I especially love to get away from the crowds and visit places that are less traveled. I hope my experience will let you get a feel for the country and the unique mixture of traditional and modern culture !