Uji, 19 km south of Kyoto, is one of two regions in Japan, well known for its tea cultivation, apart from its famous Byodo-in Temple. Uji River that flows from Lake Biwa, cuts through the City, and joins the Yodo River that eventually empties into the Inland Sea at Osaka; a wooden bridge constructed in 646 spans the two parts of the City. Cormorant fishing during the summer months is a common sight after sunset. Uji is the site of numerous country villas of the nobility when Kyoto was the imperial capital from 794 to 1868.
In 998, Minamoto no Shigenobu, Minister of the Left and the son of the Emperor Saga, built a villa for himself at the present location of Byodo-in. On his death, the property was purchased by Fujiwara no Michinaga, and in 1502, the latter’s son, Fujiwara no Yorimichi, converted it into a Buddhist temple, Byodo-in. One of the defenders of the Temple during the Genpei War in the Battle of Uji in 1180, Minamoto no Yorimasa, a poet and a warrior monk, is buried in the shrine Saisho-in. The garden and pond are designed around Byodo-in itself, representing paradise on earth: Pure Land Garden. Due to its destruction over the years by fire and wars, a major restoration was undertaken during the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), the Showa Period (1926 – 1989), until today. However, the present temple is half the size of the original. Ancient Buddhist relics are housed in the Hoshokan Museum on the grounds. The authentic Uji green tea in the temple precinct at the Byodo-in Tea Salon Toka is worth a try.