As a Florida Master Gardener I obsess over flowers. Our 35th floor Osaka apartment has been wonderful, but everything green I’ve tried to grow has inexplicably died.
So I’m out and about all the time anyways hunting Japan’s seasonal flower cycles, like Sakura, cherry blossoms, that passed in April.
Roses and peonies are now blooming insanely gorgeous in every park across Japan too. And of course flowers are just everywhere in every nook and cranny in Japan! So beautiful!
But I was a little late for wisteria. Its intoxicating scent captivated me for the first time at Osaka Castle Park. It wouldn’t be in full bloom until later, and it was still young. I found another more mature one in its pergola at a park riding my bike home. I was hooked.
I had signed up with the Community House Information Center in Kobe to go on a wisteria garden tour at Shirai Oomachi Fuji Park, but it was cancelled, and the wisteria was heard to be past its bloom.
A friend invited me to view with her wisteria at Kasuga Shrine in Nara, however, I was tired and it was Golden Week the following week and we detest crowds.
But she and I and some other intrepid friends of mine later braved a rain forecast and set out ourselves to explore the Heian period (794-1185) Byodo-in Buddhist Temple in the town of Uji in Kyoto the following week. Byodo-in was recommended for its wisteria and also because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I had also heard Uji was famous for its green tea production as well as the Tale of Genji, the world’s first full-length novel written by Murasaki Shikibu, a female servant of the Empress during this aristocratic era.
And I’m obsessed with green tea and literature! So off we went on the Japan Railroad Nara D line out of Kyoto Station to the verdant hills of Uji.
Japan has experienced quite a tourist boom over the past few years and has been struggling with it. Kyoto is especially packed to the ire of the locals. Byodo-in definitely was bursting with many Chinese tourists as well as Japanese students on tour.
We purchased admission tickets for 600¥ and also had to wait an hour for our turn to enter a tour of Hoo-do Hall, also known as Phoenix Hall because of the golden phoenixes perched on the roof as a symbol of good luck.
It required an extra 300¥ special ticket, which was worth it. We slipped off our shoes to view the towering Amida Buddha made by Japanese sculptor, Masuzo Inui. I thought, “What have I deserved to see this!” Amazing!
The 52 smaller sculptures depicted Boddhisattvas floating on clouds or dancing and playing musical instruments were on displays well as other stunning Buddhist art during the regular tour of the grounds in the Byodo-in Museum.
All inspiring and enlightening! Even though there was only a small wisp of purple wisteria left, the pink lotuses blooming in the pond under the cloudy sky was satori for the eyes and heart nonetheless.
Fewer crowds awaited us when we walked around with the map the tourist information guide back at Uji station gave us.
I was tickled to use some of my Japanese again asking for an English version, and the clerk complimented me on it. Even though I just stumble through, it has been very helpful to get around!
After leaving Byodo-in, we wandered historic streets packed with matcha and green tea stores and tea houses for some Chasoba soup – soba noodles made with matcha and served with fried tofu. You can find everything made from matcha in Uji, even ink!
We wandered again and enjoyed matcha tea service and wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets, such as mochi. Fewer crowds awaited us again as took to Uji Bridge to cross the heaving Uji River. You can see the 13-layered stone stupa built in 1286 from the other side well.
Uji Shrine was our first temple stop.
My friends and I are shrine-a-holics, so we got our goshuins, temple stamps, in our goshuinchos, temple books. You can see my collection of them on my Instagram account.
It took a while to learn with my slow brain, but I can now confidently purify myself at the fountains, chōzuya, put my yen coin in the wooden offering box, clap, ring the bell, bow, and pray. Then you get your goshuin as proof you visited the shrine.
Wonderful to participate in this amazing ritual! you feel so alive and magical and as if you are in accord the the whole universe!
Afterwards we wandered along the river to Asahiyaki Pottery for some stunning artisan work from the area.
Irises were in bloom everywhere, and we stumbled upon the spectacular and serene Kosho-ji Soto Zen Buddhist Temple as well.
The approach up the slope called “Kotozaka” was intensely green and we could only imagine what red blazing color it is like during the fall. The grounds were quiet and sublime, and I would’ve loved to tour the facilities in this asceticism-practicing-temple for monks, but next time! We had been walking a long time and it was getting late!
We found Ujikami Shinto shrine, another UNESCO World Heritage site after hiking up a hill. It started to sprinkle rain, but I have a trendy Japanese rain coat I picked up and hat so I fit in!
Priests were closing up too by 4 p.m. so we only had a bit of time to visit this shrine revered as a guardian shrine of this world.
By the time we found the Tale of Genji Museum it was late and closing. But I love Uji so much, I will definitely be back, considering how much there is to do and more!
You will too!
More photos from Uji, Kyoto, Japan of Matcha!!!!