Friday, January 22, 2016

Japan Solo // Uji: Following Genji and Green Tea

You probably heard of Uji green tea without realizing that Uji is actually a place in Japan known for its green tea. I don't love drinking straight matcha tea because it's actually very bitter, but I love matcha flavored stuff so that was the inspiration to visit this city. Uji is located between Kyoto and Nara and only about 20-30 minute train ride from Kyoto Station.

I didn't bring a map of the area, but you don't really need one because it's a small town. Just follow the crowds and signs from the station and you'll find your way. Also don't go on a Thursday because most of the shops are closed.
One of the main and most lively shopping streets. Lots of tea themed shops. And of course I couldn't resist and had to get a matcha ice cream cone, despite the cold weather.
Things I Love About Japan #54: The food ALWAYS looks exactly like the picture. Matcha cones here were a bit more expensive (averages 300 yen if I remember correctly) but I got fresh matcha powder sprinkled on top. Win.
Yes! I spy some momijis...
A huge building in the middle of a huge lake. It costs extra to go in, so I skipped. 
The famous bridge that I believe is featured prominently in The Tale of Genji. I'll confess, I have yet to read the book.
What's refreshing about Uji is that although it's a well developed, albeit small, town, it also retains a quaint and rural charm. 
The Tale of Genji Museum, which is a beautifully designed building nestled in trees. The displays are only in Japanese, but you can get a free English guide. Gives a great summary of this epic Japanese work, the background of the times, and of Uji. Though I have yet to read either book, Tale of Genji seems like a Japanese equivalent of Anna Karenina. Thoughts?
Above is cha soba, which is soba noodles made with green tea. It can be served hot or cold. Overall it's a light dish and the green tea flavor is pretty slight. Note that most restaurants in Uji close at 2pm, so plan your stomach accordingly.
And of course I can't visit Uji without trying its famed green tea. There are so many different tea shops to choose from that it was pretty overwhelming. I didn't understand the different types of green tea so I randomly ordered one, aioi sencha.
The tea wasn't whole leaves but a mixture of cut(?) leaves and stems. It was actually a salty flavored green tea. Definitely not what I expected, but I seem to be unknowingly attracted to it because I bought a salty green tea (gyokuro) from the grocery store too. The green tea sold in the specialty shops were way too expensive, especially knowing that equally good tea can be found in Taiwan for a fraction of the price, so I decided to buy some in the grocery store. A great alternative for a fraction of the price since I can't fully appreciate expensive tea anyway. The tea selection was also tailored to Uji because I later checked out the tea section in grocery stores in other cities and they did not sell any tea from Uji. 

Is all aioi and gyokuro tea salty? If any tea connoisseurs could explain I'd be gratefully enlightened!

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