Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kyoto - Side Trip to Uji Part 1

Uji is this little town about 30minutes away from Kyoto by the JR line. It's very famous for green tea, and Uji tea is supposed to be one of the best teas available. Actually, some teas which are named Uji tea isn't grown in Uji, but only processed in Uji. Not that I'm such a stickler for where it's made, but Uji was one of the side trips I unexpectedly really enjoyed. The air's realy fresh, and it has a much more relaxed, quieter feel than Kyoto.
Uji is much less commercialized place than Kyoto, which has throngs of tourists and many tourist traps (not that I really mind, cos I need to get my souveniers). But the hustle and bustle in Kyoto, especially during the very crowded hanami season (cherry blossom viewing season) can get on my nerves sometime, especially whilst jostling up bus 100 (the tourist bus)...
The more famous tourist spots are the Byodo-in temple (which we missed cos we were rushing to eat and rushing for a tea ceremony, and then rushing to Fushimi Inari shrine before sunset) and some other shrine, as well as some very old bridge where many battles of great significance to Uji's history occured (there were at least 2-3 bridges and I think we didn't manage to find the correct one). Also, the Tale of Genji (some very epic literature book which I haven't read) is set in Uji.
We rushed to the Taihoan tea house, which is managed by the local town council/tourist council for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It's really affordable, and costs 500 yen (about SGD$7.50) for a 20minute tea ceremony.
The Japanese take their tea ceremonies very seriously, and they even have an immensely complex way to drink tea. Click this link to Wiki on chado (the way of the tea). It involves facing the correct direction, having the right water temperature, number of swirls and turning the intricately designed tea bowl the correct direction (either clockwise or anticlockwise, I cannot remember). We had to wait a while, and during this time, we were told to admire the traditional Japanese garden, including this stone water jug thing for cleansing our hands (?). It's very peaceful and quiet.The traditional tea room, which has a picture to admire at the side of it, as well as a depressed hearth to warm the tea. It has traditional tatami mats, and the tea masters have to bow before entering and leaving the room. Of course, everything was done in Japanese, so we couldn't understand about 99% of what was going on, whilst the 2 other elderly Japanese tourists oooh-ed and ahhh-ed over what the tea master was saying. We weren't used to kneeling Japanese style, and half way through, my legs were dying from ischemia and we all had a major case of pins and needles once the ceremony ended. The very expensive and delicately handmade Japanese sweet, which was pink and had a sakura pattern since it was spring. It was very nice, tasted a bit like agar-agar but with a beany taste. The sweetness is supposed to counter the bitterness from the thick matcha.
I really hope to visit Uji again, and maybe stay for 2days 1 night since it's such a lovely, quaint city, unpolluted by millions of tourist and tourist buses. And maybe next time I'll find the correct bridge (so many bridges, couldn't find the one where epic battles took place...)

More about Uji:

Next post will be on one of my most memorable meals in Japan, at one of Japan's oldest tea houses :) That's if my job doesn't kill me first... I have to work on Vesak day. Depressing +++.

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