Spring is a wonderful time to be in Japan, especially during the period when the cherry blossoms (sakura さくら) bloom. For a few days each year, magical white fairy floss temporarily blankets Japan, dramatically transforming the land into postcard perfect scenes. Viewing sakura (hanami 花見) is an important tradition in Japan where friends, family and colleagues will gather and picnic under the cherry trees.
This year, I was really lucky to be able to get last minute air tickets to fly to Japan over the Good Friday weekend. Planning a trip during the sakura season can really prove stressful as hotels and air tickets are usually booked out way ahead of time. Another dependency is whether you get to catch the blooms at the right time as the weather in the weeks preceding to the forecasted bloom time may throw all prior forecasts off. Prior to my trip, I monitored the cherry blossom forecast using a couple of Japanese websites:
1. Forecast of initial blooms and peaks: Sakura weathermap
2. Real time tracking of the status of blooms at famous hanami spots: Hanami walkerplus
I chose Uji (宇治) as one of my sakura viewing locations as I’ve always wanted to visit this place. Uji is a city located at the outskirts of Kyoto and is accessible on the JR Nara Line between Kyoto and Nara. It is famous for superior quality green tea and it is not uncommon to find tea or matcha products being labelled as originating from Uji, as Uji is synonymous with good quality tea.
As I stayed in Osaka this time, I used the Keihan railway to get to Uji as the train fare was slight cheaper than taking the JR line.
I fell in love with Uji the moment I got out of the railway station. The Uji River runs through Uji city – the calm river waters coupled with the blue skies and white sakura blooms was such a pretty sight.
Uji is famous for tea and one of the ‘must-not-miss’ foods will have to be green tea soba noodles! I had my fix at one of the shops next to Uji Bridge.
It is unmistakeable that Uji is a tea capital as the foods and sweets revolve around tea. Even the streets are lined with numerous tea shops and the smell of roasted tea permeated the air.
The Itohkyuemon (伊藤久右衛門) tea shop in Uji is a famous shop and it even has its own Kit Kat flavors (Uji Matcha and Hojicha Roasted Tea) to boot. These Kit Kat flavors from Itohkyuemon (伊藤久右衛門) are limited edition Kyoto regional specialty flavors. (Check out my other post on bizarre Japanese Kit Kat flavors for more information.)
After walking through to the end of the street, we reached Byodo-in Temple (平等院). Byodo-in is a famous temple where its Phoenix Hall is featured on the back of the Japanese 10-yen coin. Unfortunately, the Phoenix Hall is undergoing reconstruction works till March 2014 and is currently covered up in scaffolding. Whilst the entrance fee is reduced as a result, I figured that there is not much point paying to view a scaffolding and hence I did not enter.
To get to the cherry blossoms, we continued to walk past Byodo-in.
After viewing the flowers, it was time for tea and what’s a trip to Uji without having some matcha desserts? 🙂
How to Get There
Uji is accessible via the JR Nara Line (JR Uji station) or Keihan Uji Line (Keihan Uji station).