Japan 2015 — Day 5: Kyoto — Uji


If the pre­vi­ous day on our Japan 2015 trip was ded­ic­ated to sake, then this next day would be ded­ic­ated to green tea (if there was a way to have a day in Japan ded­ic­ated to cof­fee, we’d be right there!). Why? Because I love tea, and felt like we didn’t do Uji in Kyoto prop­erly in 2011.

The Uji area has a long his­tory with the cul­tiv­a­tion of green tea and is an import­ant pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter of super­i­or qual­ity green tea. This time, we’re vis­it­ing as a side trip from Osaka.

Osaka — Kitahama


We change from the sub­way to the train at Kitahama where we make a pit stop for break­fast and pick up some some goods from the bakery.


The bakery goods get saved for later in the day, as D spots a McDonald’s and is eager to try out their break­fast menu.


They offer an array of options for break­fast bey­ond the bacon or saus­age we get in Australia. There are veget­ari­an pat­ties as well, but we go for a chick­en schnitzel muffin set with iced cof­fees.


The iced cof­fees at McDonald’s are really quite decent — as a rule of thumb, if I can drink it without milk or sug­ar then it’s a decent cof­fee. The chick­en schnitzel muffin comes pip­ing hot with egg and cheese and tomato sauce — it’s quite the hearty break­fast for a long day of sight­see­ing.

Kyoto — Uji


Forty minutes and two trains later, we’re at Keihan Uji Station.


The Keihan Uji Station has a dis­tinct­ive bunker-like appear­ance.


Having come into Uji via the Keihan, rather than the JR, line, we begin down the shops lin­ing the east­ern side of Uji River that runs through the centre of the town.


It’s a nar­row street wide enough for one car, so there’s quite a traffic jam of humans and cars.


While we wait for the traffic, we see some wooden res­id­ences along the street.


Off the main street, there’s a rather new res­id­ence with lion beside its gate.


Just before the end of the street, a tea house of sorts faces onto the river.


Many people pack pic­nics to eat along the bank of the river.


On the west­ern side of the river, there are no fences to stop you from get­ting close to the water.


Having almost reached the end of the street, we’re bewildered at not being able to find a shop we’d read about on the Internet about three-flavored dango. We even get out the pock­et wifi to try to loc­ate it on Google Maps, only to have it tell us that we were stand­ing exactly where it was meant to be. After giv­ing up, we find it in the shack right in front of us, the gen­tle­man run­ning the store hav­ing just arrived in his car.


The three fla­vours on the dango stick are sen­cha, matcha and houjicha.


The sen­cha is mel­low, while the matcha has a more veget­al fla­vour, and the houjicha has a pleas­ant toasted sweet­ness to it. These dango are more nat­ur­ally col­oured than the ones in Sydney.


Behind the shack, there are a couple of benches to enjoy your dango with the view of the river.


Some trees have the last of their leaves still attached…


…while oth­ers have missed the memo that it’s late autumn.This


This is the entrance to Uji Shrine, which we’d seen before.


And fur­ther along from the entrance to Uji Shrine is the Fukujuen Tea Workshop. Fukujuen is fam­ous for pro­du­cing qual­ity sen­cha.


The store sells a vari­ety of sen­cha at all dif­fer­ent grades, as well (to a less­er extent) houjicha and oth­er green teas. There’s a res­taur­ant upstairs with a wait­ing list a coupe of pages long!


Opposite the Fukujuen Tea Workshop is a small build­ing selling ceram­ics.


We make our way across to the west­ern side of the river.


It’s a warm day and the view from the bridge is beau­ti­ful.


This is the view towards the north, which is where the train sta­tions are loc­ated.


The bridge spans between the east­ern bank of the river and an island in the middle. In this photo you can see the red bridge that begins at the tori guard­ing the entrance to Uji Shrine.


Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to look out your win­dow to a moun­tain­ous back­drop?


A smal­ler bridge con­nects the island to the west­ern side of the river.


It’s a rather over­cast day, but it’s very warm. Especially for late autumn in Japan.


On the west­ern bank of the river, we reach the Fujukuen Tea Museum.


This place is really less of a museum and more of a cafe that serves their sen­cha, includ­ing fla­voured ones, as well as green tea and houjicha soft­serve desserts.


You can also pur­chase their fla­voured sen­chas here, which you couldn’t at the Tea Workshop across the river.


I try the premi­um uji gyok­uro. Gyokuro is the most expens­ive type of sen­cha avail­able, being shiel­ded from the sun for up to three weeks before har­vest. This pro­cess increases the thean­ine and caf­feine and decreases the cat­echin levels the tea leaves and to yield a sweeter fla­vour and a dis­tinct­ive aroma.


The first infu­sion of gyok­uro (top) is at a sig­ni­fic­antly lower brew­ing tem­per­at­ure than most oth­er green teas, includ­ing sen­cha (65 – 75C), at 50 – 60C and steeped for a longer dur­a­tion of 90 seconds com­pared to the 60 seconds for ordin­ary sen­cha. The first infu­sion brews to a pale green col­our (bot­tom left) from which gyok­uro (mean­ing jade dew) gains its name. Its taste is of a pleas­antly sweet umami fla­vour that’s unlike any oth­er. The second infu­sion (bot­tom right) is brewed using slightly warm­er water for a short­er dur­a­tion and yields a grassi­er fla­vour.


We also try houjicha and green tea soft serve with azuki bean. The green tea soft serve is a much paler col­our com­pared to the soft serve you get else­where, which leads me to think it’s actu­ally a sen­cha soft serve as opposed to a mac­cha soft serve. This green tea soft serve gives a more roun­ded green tea fla­vour with none of the bit­ter­ness that you get with mac­cha. The houjicha has its famil­i­ar roas­ted fla­vours that I love, although I’d have liked it to be stronger. These fla­vours of soft serve go with the azuki beans just per­fectly.


We con­tin­ue towards the south, and pass by this beau­ti­ful arch fram­ing the drive­way to a res­id­ence.


At the end of the street we reach some souven­ir shops.


This shop had just taken some man­ju fresh from the steam­er, which entices us to try. We opt for the green one which is green tea, and avoid the brown one, which our rudi­ment­ary read­ing of Japanese informs us is soy sauce and not chocol­ate!


Isn’t this pretty? The green tea man­ju is pil­lowy soft with an azuki bean filling. The green tea fla­vour isn’t too strong and the azuki bean filling is the per­fect sweet­ness and tex­ture (being not too smooth).


This red bridge is a long ways fur­ther down from the red bridge in the photo earli­er on. It’d seem that we arrived here just as bus­loads of Chinese tour­ists were unloaded.


Boats run up and down Uji River.


Here, you can see a crowd of tour­ists enjoy­ing a meal onboard the boat.


Off the west­ern bank of the river, fur­ther north of Fujukuen, is the Tourist Information Center.


The Tourist Information Center offers the exper­i­ence of tea cere­mon­ies at very reas­on­able prices. You can enjoy Japanese tea and sweets in the tea house set­ting for Y500. Or you can exper­i­ence otem­ae — the tea cere­mony — for Y1200, which includes watch­ing a pro­fes­sion­al otem­ae and exper­i­en­cing otem­ae your­self. This requires a reser­va­tion 3 days in advance. While D and I did not par­ti­cip­ate in this, for the budget-friendly, this pack­age offered by the Tourist Information Centre is a far more eco­nom­ic­al way to exper­i­ence an authen­t­ic tea cere­mony than at private tea houses.


The lady at the counter is anxious about her book­ing for the tea cere­mony exper­i­ence.


Instead, D and I stop by the Tourist Information Centre for some com­pli­ment­ary tea.


The tea is refresh­ing after the long walk around Uji.


And made all the more pleas­ant by the view out­side to the garden behind the Center.


Back on the river, we spot some plants being grown in old car­tons.


And … this con­trap­tion, which prob­ably hides some urb­an util­it­ies.


We make our way towards Omotesando, the main street of Uji.


It’s crowded with tour­ists. We try to spot some­where to have lunch, but all the shops have a long queue.


And instead we stop by some of the tea shops on Omotesando. Here’d the gen­tle­man is stand­ing by a machine roast­ing green tea to make houjicha. The smell is amaz­ing.


And fur­ther back in the store, we see some machines grind­ing green tea into mac­cha.


The street is lined with tra­di­tion­al look­ing houses.


And at this tea store, Ocha no Kanbayashi, we sniff premi­um gyok­uro (Y10,800/100g) and the shop lady offers us to eat some — gyok­uro is so high qual­ity that it can be eaten raw. I end up pur­chas­ing a less premi­um gyok­uro (Y1,080/100g).


There’s a con­veni­ent sum­mary of the types of green tea on their wall.


On the oppos­ite side of the street is a new shop being built. I love their use of wood.


Many of the build­ings on the street are newly built in the tra­di­tion­al style.


This store, Itohkyuemon Honten, sells all sorts of green tea food­stuffs and drinks. I spot the two KitKats made using tea from the tea house and join the queue.


There are matcha rolls, and matcha chocol­ate to be bought…


…as well as green tea curry.…


…and green tea liqueur.


At anoth­er store along the street we find tea being sold in giant wooden boxes.


We make our way down the road towards the JR sta­tion in hope of find­ing a less crowded res­taur­ant for lunch.


And we find the place at Cha Ganju.


It’s a res­taur­ant at the back of the shop front that sells all sorts of con­di­ments and jams in jars.


Even so, we end up wait­ing for about 10 – 15 minutes — it’s the day before a pub­lic hol­i­day in Japan so there are hoards of tour­ists vis­it­ing from Japan and abroad. They have cha soba on their menu, which is what we’re after. But, they’ve run out of their Tempura Matcha Soba Noodle.


We settle on their Matcha Soba Noodle with Herring Fish instead. It’s a rather oily fish with a rich and salty fla­vour. The taste of green tea doesn’t really come through in the cha-soba, so we’re really enjoy­ing the nov­elty of eat­ing green noodles, which had good bite.


D tops off his lunch with some baked goods we’d bought from Pompadour at Kitahama earli­er this morn­ing. What looked like a roll mas­quer­ad­ing as a jaigamo is actu­ally a roll filled with shir­asu (tiny fish). It’s rather savoury and not some­thing we’d eat again.


And this is the intern­al court­yard of Nakamura Tokichia tra­di­tion­al Japanese cafe serving green tea desserts from par­faits to anmitsu. The queue is phe­nom­en­al today with a wait­ing time of four hours. Yes, FOUR HOURS.


Instead, we head back towards the Keihan train sta­tion and stop by the loc­al super­mar­ket.


And find some suit­ably Uji dessert: yawamo­chi. The dessert is marked as being a sale item on the shelf, and to sweeten the deal even fur­ther, it rang up with anoth­er 30% dis­count! Yatta!


Just like a tra­di­tion­al Japanese dessert, this has mac­cha ice cream with five dango (rice cake) and anko (red bean jam) all encased in wafer. It was deli­cious!


With dessert tucked away, we head towards the bridge back to the Keihan sta­tion.


This is the view towards the west­ern side of the river from the bridge. At the very bot­tom of this photo, you can see a tiny white sculp­ture — that’s a statue cel­eb­rat­ing the sig­ni­fic­ant role the Uji area has in the Japanese nov­el The Tale of Genji.


And finally, the view from the bridge towards the north of Uji.


The sun’s almost set by the time we reach the Keihan Station. Further afield, the west­ern side of Uji seems to be indus­tri­al.

Osaka — Tejimbashi Shopping Street


It’s dark by the time we return to Kitahama. We walk across Yodogawa towards Tenjimbashi Shopping Street for din­ner.


Most of the shops are clos­ing down for the even­ing. But the res­taur­ants are just start­ing their even­ing ser­vice.


It’s still too early for din­ner, so D and I walk down Tenjimbashi Shopping Street for a while (it’s some 2.6km). We spot these cute ramune fla­voured candy in a tiny ramune bottle, and a super size bottle of Yakult. D also spots a super cute Kumamon back­pack that I snap up.


We con­tin­ue as far as the Mister Donut, which we’ve been look­ing since our first day. We’re eager to relive the deli­cious­ness that is a Y194 chocol­ate-glazed, cus­tard-filled cronut.


We see the Rookie branch of Century 21. Wouldn’t want them to man­age your prop­erty!


And we’re back at our favour­ite unagi res­taur­ant, Unatoto. We vis­it every time we’re in Japan.


Nothing about the restaurant’s changed in the past year.


Not even the prices, which have only gone up Y20 since 2011.


D orders the Y1,000 bowl (left), while I get the Y800 bowl. While it looks like my bowl is big­ger, the rice is rather shal­low. D’s bowl is deep­er with about 50% more eel. The eel is deli­ciously smoky from being grilled over char­coal and drizzled in sauce. It tastes just as good every time!


Y194 (~$2) for a cronut is a steal. It still blows my mind how cheap and deli­cious these are, espe­cially com­pared to the ones we get in Australia, which start at $5 for unfilled ones!


It’s chocol­ate glazed with a cus­tard filling. It is every bit as fluffy as I remem­ber. What a deli­cious way to end the first part of our trip in Osaka.