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Japan 2015 — Day 5: Kyoto — Uji

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Some trees have the last of their leaves still attached…

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

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

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

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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!

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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).

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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.

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Boats run up and down Uji River.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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The tea is refresh­ing after the long walk around Uji.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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The street is lined with tra­di­tion­al look­ing houses.

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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).

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

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

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

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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.

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

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…as well as green tea curry.…

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…and green tea liqueur.

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

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

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And we find the place at Cha Ganju.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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

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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.

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

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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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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.