Monday, December 8

Aki no Kyoto: Uji and Byodoin

Day Two of my recent Kyoto trip was brilliant and sunny, a gorgeous fall day. Perfect for a trip out to Uji, a small city just to the south of Kyoto. Easily accessed by the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station or the Keihan Uji Line from Shijo Station, Uji is home to a handfull of temples and shrines, a riverside park and scenic road for strolling, not to mention the plethora of tea and tea-related shops. If you can read kanji, or even if you can't you can get an idea here:

It's a short walk from Uji Station to the main street that is home to all the shops. You can't miss the Ujibashi Building on the corner, with a giant coin on its front. Keep to the left of that, and you're on your way. The street leads you directly to Byodoin.

Jo and I think postally in front of Uji Station.

Typical sites in Japan: What's your bloodtype? and soft serve.
But this "ice cream" comes with a twist (no pun intended): it's matcha flavored.
I would really like to find one of those Gotochi Kitty posters...

As opposed to sobacha (more delicious).

The tea goes in...

... the tea comes out.
All brown and roasted and smelling edible. Hojicha just might be my new favorite...

Our first stop was, of course, Byodoin, as it was the purpose for the trip. The temple is perhaps most famous for the image of its Phoenix Hall which appears on the 10-yen coin. My draw for wanting to go to Byodoin was a picture I saw of the hall reflected neatly in the pond surrounding it. I was not disappointed.

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Being a three-day holiday weekend, Byodoin was as packed as Daikakuji the day before. We waited about 10 minutes in a snaking line just to buy tickets to get in. But no one minded as the day was gorgeous and the momiji all around us denied any party-poopiness.

Celebrating Shichigosan.

Joseph finally got his ticket.

Byodoin... not being done justice.

Just as Daikakuji was built during the Heian period as a retreat and later converted to a temple, Byodoin was originally a villa for Fujiwara no Michinaga, a powerful member of the Fujiwara clan. Fifty years after being built, it was made into a Buddhist temple by his son. Inside the Phoenix Hall is a large statue of Amida, the main buddha according to the Pure Land Sect.

If you look super closely through that circle in the doorway, you can see the face of Amida.

Waiting their turn for the Phoenix Hall.
Apparently you had to buy tickets in advance, well, like an hour in advance. We didn't realize that until we were leaving. Ah well.

Byodoin reflected in Ajiike.

Happiness in nature.

Joseph just goes with it.

I'm such a selfish photographer. All the while I was huffing and puffing about people getting in my pictures and staying there, being jama's. And look how many pictures I've taken of people from behind while waiting for them to get out of my way. I was the jama!!!

Burt and Connie

Aside from its beautiful Phoenix Hall, which showcases twin phoenixes on either end of the roof peak, the Byodoin museum houses 26 wooden "Worshiping Bodhisattvas on Clouds" which were once, in their more colorful days, displayed prominently inside the Phoenix Hall. The museum itself, although a very modern construction, is very visually impressive, and well worth a trip inside.

A phoenix atop the Hall

Cruising the river.

The Mesh Life
Uji is also host to Cormorant Fishing, but as it takes place at night, the birds are kept locked up during the daytime.

Happy Birthday, Genji.

Besides Byodoin, tea and the 10-yen coin, Uji is also famous as being the setting for a good portion of The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari). Written during the Heian Period (mid-Medieval times in Europe), Genji is often considered the world's first novel. This year, Uji is celebrating the 1000th anniversary of the book.

And look what I got!

Oyoide wa Ikemasen
There's evil in them thar rivers.

Murasaki Shikibu
Named after the author of The Tale of Genji. Or was it that she was named for it?

After meandering about the Byodoin grounds, we took a stroll along the streets of Uji, along and across the river and eventually up to Koshoji, another Buddhist temple famous for its Kotozaka, a maple-lined path leading up to the entrance. Although it wasn't quite at peak performance that weekend, in the late autumn, the momiji create a spectacular tunnel of color.

At the start of the Kotozaka.

Koshoji Sakuramon

The gate entrance to Koshoji also seems made for the season, as when one peers out from inside, the gate forms a contrasting white frame for the kouyou colors beyond.

Roof ornaments at Koshoji.

Leave your shoes.

Seiza cushions?
I haven't found out exactly what these are for. Even Yasuko and Sachiko couldn't tell me...

Inside Koshoji

Relaxing Turbulence
As you travel downriver, it becomes increasingly agitated, due mostly to the efforts of Amagase Dam which releases a dizzying torrent of water into the river.

Lanterns just lighting up outside the shop where I couldn't help but buy some hojicha. The smell was too much for me.

The culprit.

"Even Tokyo Station isn't this crowded."
Overheard while trying to navigate the swarms at Kyoto Station

And speaking of dizzying torrents, Kyoto Station was a hive of activity as weekend travelers rushed in all directions. Since I wasn't in a hurry, it was rather exciting, adding to the adventure of being in a super Japanese city.

People here and people there.

Twin Trees.
I'm sure you can guess which is the real one.

Of course Kyoto Station is ready for Christmas, with its lights displays and Christmas Tree up and bumping. The tree is situated in front of an amphitheater-type area. Except that the "seats" are only on one side.

Isn't the station amazing?

It's not a timetable, it's a listing of where and how much the momiji are "blooming."
Inside the JR Shinkansen ticket office.

Just before we left Uji, I was finally let in on the secret of the day: It was Yasuko's birthday! So we stopped at the grocery store at the station and picked up fixings for dinner and in lieu of the birthday cake I offered, Yasuko and Sachiko chose ice cream. So it was Godiva ice cream for dessert. Oh, man. Why does Strawberry Chocolate Chip sound like such an easy flavor, and yet I can't say as I've tasted or even heard of it before. I never want to eat it again, either. I don't think anyone can do it better than Godiva did. Ok, I take it back. I do want to eat it again. But only Godiva's.

Back at home, Sachiko prepared a light dinner of pasta and kabocha with a creamy-cheesy sauce. And wine for all adults present. And eventually, after some light revelry, all adults present brushed their teeth and went to bed.

While writing this post, I came across more links than I could easily merge into the text, so here is a list of links you might find useful when visiting Uji, or just for additional information to satisfy your curiosity. Some are repeats of the embedded links.


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