Uji is adjacent to Kyoto. Its location is elevated and surrounded by bush clad mountains. A place of natural springs, small streams and the navigable Uji River. There are numerous historical sites of outstanding quality, many from the time when Kyoto was Japan’s imperial capital, which lasted for 1000 years.
Uji is also know for Japanese green tea. The most well known Japanese green teas are Matcha and Sencha. Both of which went through growing and processing developments in Uji.
The tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, was brought to Japan from China, more than 1000 years ago. The first recorded mention of Uji growing tea plants is in the 1200s.
By the late 1500s the rituals and philosophy of Wabi-cha, the Japaneses tea ceremony, was completed by Sen-no Rikyu, the son of Osaka merchants.
As the practice of ‘the way of tea’ got larger, the tea growers of Uji, with skills and horticultural techniques, were able to grow matcha tea with a deep green colour. This deep green tea became the preferred choice for those practicing the tea ceremony.
One technique used to retain the green colour was covering the tea gardens to filter the sunlight as they approach harvest. After harvesting the fresh tea leaves are steamed then dried. In the case of matcha, the leaves are turned into a powder using a stone mill.
During the feudal system of the Edo period, 1603 to 1868, only Uji was allowed to produce matcha which was then sold and used by the Shogunate, the noble families and wealthy merchants.
By far the most popular tea consumed in Japan is sencha, a green tea brewed in hot water to drink. There are many varieties and grades. The commoners of feudal Japan welcomed drinking this clear light-green tea. The refreshing taste of sencha was also developed in Uji during the 1700s.
Another brewing tea developed in Uji, is the lesser known, high grade Gyokuro, also grown under shade prior to harvest.
Uji is still known for its matcha, sencha and gyokuro tea. Tea grown in Uji is known as Uji-cha. ‘Uji-cha tea’ is a sign of quality and scholarship.
The Research centre grows different types of Japanese tea.
The Research centre can process tea. With a range of machines from different era’s. All in working order.
The Research centre does scientific study on tea.
Staff members demonstrate the tea preparation process. Leaves are picked, steam cleaned, then rolled dry. The leaves are not broken or fermented like black tea.
A specialist demonstrates the Uji-cha hand kneading method. Now this task is done mostly by machines, but at the research centre people are trained to process tea by hand.
Bottom right, tea leaves when picked. The leaves at the top have been steamed, dried and rolled into ‘needles’.
People enjoy the chance to pick the leaves.
How to pick tea. Bend the leaf tips forward, then move your hand forward and 'pluck' the stem.
Tea plant gardens for Matcha and Gyokuro are covered preceding harvest. This is called Ohishita Cultivation, started in Uji in the late 1500s. This cuts the amount of sunlight keeping the leaves soft. It helps retain the deep green colour as well as the umani taste of theanine an active ingredient of the tea. The tea garden is covered in a horticultural black cloth.
Matcha tea, yet to be picked. This tea garden is covered in the traditional way of Ohishita Cultivation using rice straw and reeds.
Exterior of the Horii Shichimeien teahouse in Uji. The Horii family have grown, processed, and sold Japanese tea for 6 generations. The term Shichimeien means ‘seven outstanding gardens’. This refers to seven outstanding tea gardens that were established 650 years ago. The ‘Okuno Yama Garden’ is the only one of the seven original gardens which exist today. It is owned by Horii Schichimen.
Display of Horii Shichimeiens Uji teas that have received top prizes at Japanese tea competitions.
Ousu (matcha tea in thin style) artfully whisked, with Ubatama, a Kyoto sweet. The bowl is from Asahi Yaki Pottery of Uji.
The matcha is a Horii Shichimeiens single origin called Narino.
Enjoying a tasting of Ki no Tea, a gin from Kyoto Distillery made from a blend of Horii Shichimeien green tea’s.
Sencha ‘first flush’ tea.
The conclusion of our matcha party, warmly hosted by Mrs Horii.
Uji, Kyoto Prefecture has been know as a tea growing area for centuries.
Roasting ‘Hojicha’ tea on the street in Uji. Hojicha is a popular tea for everyday drinking. There are many tea shops and tea houses in Uji.
Noccas Wion coffee roasters of Uji.
Two masks of the traditional comical roles, Hyottoko (male) and Okame (female) guardians of good fortune.
The Taiho-an teahouse is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in Japanese tea culture and the tea ceremony. It is run by Uji City Council and is adjacent to the Uji Tourist Information Centre, where you can make a booking for a tea sitting.
In a rotating order, different tea ceremony schools from Uji take turns to offer tea to those interested.
The Matcha tea comes from the growers of Uji.
A gardener at Byodo In Temple.
Part of the gardens at the Byodo In Temple, Uji.
Roof lines of the Phoenix Hall.
Part of the Phoenix Hall at the Byodo In Temple. Photography is partially banned at Byodo In. With photography allowed in some areas. It is not uncommon to see people photographing Byodo In, where they will partially block the temple with their face.
Close to a 1000 years ago it was written at this site, “close your eyes and you will see yourself”.
A banner at the Agata-jinja Shrine proclaiming and celebrating the new era of Reiwa.
LINKS TO OTHER SECTIONS OF KAIHANSHI JOURNEY
HOME LINK: Miller's logo centre top of screen.