Green tea has become a staple in Japan, but its roots can be traced back to the arrival of Chinese green tea in the 8th century. At that time, only a select few priests and noblemen were familiar with the beverage. Fast forward a few centuries, during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), and green tea leaves imported from China and cultivated in Uji began gaining popularity among the nobility.
Eisai, a Zen priest who brought Zen Buddhism from China to Japan, wrote a book extolling the virtues of the drink and advised Uji priests on tea plant cultivation and preparation. Eventually, tea drinking became more widely embraced, and Uji earned a reputation for producing excellent tea as one of the first places to engage in tea cultivation. Today, Uji’s tea is still considered to be of exceptional quality.
Uji’s tea culture offers visitors a variety of ways to indulge in this local specialty. Most restaurants and shops in the town serve tea in some form or another. Popular menu items include matcha-flavored soba noodles, ice cream, and sweets. Drinking tea in riverside tea houses is a beloved pastime, and the Omotesando, a 300-meter approach to Byodoin Temple lined with shops, is a great place to purchase tea-related souvenirs.
For an authentic tea ceremony experience, head to Taihoan, a public tea house located a short walk from Byodoin Temple. In a traditional tea house setting, guests are served matcha (or green tea on certain days) and learn proper tea ceremony etiquette from the host.
If you’re interested in learning more about tea preparation, Fukujuen Ujicha Kobo offers hands-on activities such as matcha grinding classes. After preparing the tea, participants get to enjoy the fruits of their labor during a tasting session. Reservations are not required, and the building also features a restaurant serving tea and tea-related meals and snacks.
Just a stone’s throw away from Fukujuen Ujicha Kobo is Takumi no Yakata, a tea house staffed with certified tea instructors who provide step-by-step guidance on brewing the perfect cup of tea. Guests can choose from several tea sets and pair their drink with Japanese sweets. English instruction is available, and the instructors are happy to answer any tea-related questions and explain the differences between various types of tea.
In conclusion, Uji’s rich tea culture offers a delightful opportunity for visitors to explore and experience the history and flavors of Japanese green tea. From indulging in matcha-flavored cuisine to participating in an authentic tea ceremony or learning to prepare your own tea, Uji has something for every tea enthusiast.