Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Visiting Uji

When we were planning our first trip to Kyoto back in 2010, my Japanese friend had suggested that we should try to visit Uji if possible. Unfortunately, due to time constraints we skipped Uji on that trip. We have been to Kyoto a couple of times after that but never made it to Uji. In September this year, we finally decided to visit Uji. 

Many overseas travellers skip Uji because it is a bit offtrack. And since Kyoto has so much to offer, people choose some place within the city over taking a trip outside of Kyoto. If time is not a constraint, it is definitely worth taking a day trip to Uji.
Uji is best known for the historic Byodo-in temple. Originally constructed in 998 AD, Byodo-in was not intended to be a temple. It was built as a countryside retreat villa for a powerful feudal lord of the Fujiwara clan, Michinaga. It was Michinaga's son, Yorimichi, who converted it into a temple and also ordered the construction of the Phoenix Hall in 1053. T
he Phoenix Hall, Hoodo in Japanese, gets its name from the two Phoenix statues which adorn its roof. The Phoenix Hall is depicted on the back of the Japanese 10 yen coin.

The temple with its garden, is a classic example of the Buddhist Pure Land architecture. Over the centuries, many of the buildings forming part of the Byodoin temple complex were destroyed by fires and other calamities. However, the Phoenix Hall was never destroyed and survived intact. A statue of Amida Buddha (Amitabha Tathagatha), dating back to the Heian period, is housed in the Phoenix Hall. The walls surrounding the Buddha are adorned by statues of the Bodhisattvas on clouds. Wall and door paintings depict the Buddha's life. An additional ticket costing 300 yen is required to enter the Phoenix Hall. 

Some more pictures from the Byodoin temple complex.

The Hoshokan is a museum where various exhibits and treasures from the Byodoin are on display. A Buddhist temple bell, pair of Phoenixes and statues of Bodhisattvas on Clouds are among the various treasures on display.

Opening Hours: 8:30 hrs-17:30 hours ( Hoshokan opens from 9:00 hrs- 17:00 hrs)

Admission Fees: 600 yen (for Garden and Hoshokan Museum); Additional 300 yen for                                    entrance to Phoenix Hall.

Address: Kyoto Prefecture, 611-0021, Uji shi, Renge-116

Phone: 0774-21-2861 

Website: www.byodoin.or.jp/ja/en.html  

Apart from the Byodoin, Uji is popular for a couple of things. It is home to the Tales of Genji Museum. Tales of Genji, (or Genji Monogatari as it is known in Japanese) is widely believed to be the first modern novel of the world and offcourse the first Japanese novel. It was written by a Noble woman, Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in waiting during the 11th century. The novel depicts lifestyles of the high courtiers and other aristocratic families during the Heian period. The final ten chapters of the tale are set in Uji. 
A statue of Murasaki Shikibu can be seen next to the Uji Bridge, across the Uji river. The Tale of Genji Museum has various exhibits based on the storyline and the characters. 

We skipped the museum and instead chose to walk along the Uji river. Uji river is one of the few places in Japan where a traditional kind of fishing, Ukai, the Japanese name for Cormorant fishing is conducted in the evenings in summer. 

The fishing boats set out for fishing after sunset and visitors can board the boat to view the cormorant fishing. 

A thirteen story stone pagoda stands along the banks of the Uji river. 

Uji, is also well known among the Japanese for its Matcha (green tea). I was told that Uji's green tea is considered to be one of the finest quality and Uji is also referred to be the tea capital of Japan. A Japan Post post box shaped like a Jar of green tea is perhaps testimony to Uji's green tea !

The Bridge across the Uji river is also featured on Uji's manhole cover. 

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