Uji & Nara – Oh Deer, It’s A Matcha Made In Heaven

In November 2019, I took my parents to Japan for their first time – and my seventh – over two weeks. This series is to be read as a diary, and serves as a place to showcase the pictures taken and preserve the memories made.

Nara
Please stop me from making these terrible puns will you, deer?

Date of trip: 14/Nov/2019 – 28/Nov/2019

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All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.

Series Contents (TBC)

Day 1 – Hiroshima (introduction)Day 2 – Okayama/Kurashiki
Day 3 – OsakaDay 4 – Mount Koya
Day 5 – KyotoDay 6 – Kyoto
Day 7 – ArashiyamaDay 8 – Kyoto
Day 9 – Uji & NaraDay 10 – Hakone
Day 11 – HakoneDay 12 – Tokyo
Day 13 – TokyoDay 14 – Tokyo

Japan Day 9 – Uji & Nara

Uji - Byōdō-in
Entrance to Byōdō-in. Like most attractions in Japan, there’s an entrance charge of several hundred yen that’s well worth the money.

Oh yes, it’s possible. Uji – Japan’s green tea capital and Nara – once the country’s actual capital. It’s possible to do them both on the same day if you wake at the rooster’s crow: lack of time is the mother of invention or something. I forgot what I was trying to say here; uh, we were in a rush. There’s no time to lose!

  • Uji - Byōdō-in
  • Uji - Byōdō-in
  • Uji - Byōdō-in

Part of the reason this marathon of a day is even attemptable is because – no disrespect – you don’t need to spend much time in Uji. It’s a nondescript city, so you already know exactly why you’re here: if you don’t like matcha, there goes roughly 89% of your raison d’être for visiting. As for the remaining 11% well, that’s just a guess at how badly you want to check out Byōdō-in, the temple that’s featured on the back of your ¥10 coin.

  • Uji Japan
  • Uji Japan
  • Uji Japan
  • Uji Japan

Byōdō-in is – of course it is – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When it comes to Japanese landmarks, it’s practically the minimum criteria to be considered for a visit, such is their number. The temple is notable – other than its featuring on currency – for being an outstanding example of Heian period architecture (a period of around 800-1200AD, when Kyoto was known as Heian-Kyo).

  • Uji - Nakamura Tōkichi
  • Uji - Matcha Tasting
  • Uji - Matcha Tasting

Now if you are into matcha (again, roughly 89% of my readership), you know exactly why you’re here. Uji is the real deal for the green stuff, producing some 60% of Japan’s matcha, and is home to the likes of Tsujiri and Nakamura Tōkichi – household names, assuming matchaholics live there – which have their hontens (flagship stores) based here. I sh*t you not when I say we ended the trip with an entire suitcase dedicated to matcha goods. My only regret was not getting more, though I’m pretty sure there’d be a point where I’d trigger the suspicions of border security lugging so much powder.

  • Uji Japan
  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso

Lunch was matcha soba at a riverside restuarant called Aiso, which has the distinction of offering diners the choice to dine on a repurposed cormorant fishing boat. Given it was roughly oh, four degrees that day, no thank you.

  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso
  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso
  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso
  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso
  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso
  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso
  • Uji - Restaurant Aiso

Our lunch at Aiso finished at around 1:30pm, which was about as late it could be with deer o’clock sneaking up. Trip time? A tick over an hour, and given it’s nearly winter, daylight goes fast.

  • Nara
  • Nara

Nara appears on every guidebook on Japan. Like seriously, EVERY guidebook – look it up. As such, it’s naturally on everyone’s first-time-in-Japan itinerary. I managed to resist the call on six previous trips – not deliberately mind you, but after visiting Miyajima Island (Itsukushima) which also has wild deer, it didn’t seem like Nara had anything more for me. As the famous float-on-water Itsukushima Shrine is currently undergoing renovations, an opportunity to visit Nara came up. That, and also if I didn’t take my parents to Nara on their first trip to Japan, I was quite sure I’d be headbutted.

  • Nara deer
  • Nara

Now that I’ve been, I know what it feels like. In the arse, no less. Seriously, the deer at Nara are nasty. If you have even the slightest semblance of food on your personage, be prepared for some wonderful – and uninvited – photo ops. Far out, these must be some pretty hungry bucks, because even my black shirt – not food, last time I checked – was fair game. It’s a good thing deer saliva doesn’t smell…much. Other minor casualties were my camera bag strap and a minor case of feeling violated, because despite being forwarned long before, I still forked out 500yen in buying senbei biscuits sold specifically to feed the little buggers.

Nara
Kōfuku-ji temple used to be one of Japan’s greatest temples when Nara used to be Japan’s capital. This is the temple’s 5-storey pagoda.
Nara
Kōfuku-ji’s Chū-kondō (central golden hall).

Clearly one of the stags had concussed me because that was just a straight-up dumbass move. Just so you know, the deer on Miyajima are a lot nicer. There is some historical interest to Nara as well, being an old capital of Japan and home to the culturally significant Kōfuku temple, but that’s for another day.

While I can’t see myself returning to Nara any time soon – I will one day return for its other culturally significant sites (Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha etc.).

Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
Onryōri Hiwatashi, an ultra old-school kaiseki restaurant that only serves one group of diners a day.
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi

After a good three hours in Nara, we trained it back up to Kyoto and hurried to our dinner which I smartly reserved for 7:30pm – you never want to be late to a restaurant reservation in Japan, but especially not Onryōri Hiwatashi, a kaiseki ryotei firmly steeped in tradition. So firm in fact, that I haven’t come across a more true-to-form textbook reference. You won’t find many places like this in Tokyo, a city where kaiseki follows a more progressive kappo style, which allows for many more freedoms in meal progression. Since I don’t want this post to be too long, I’ll give just one example: the gohan – a kaiseki fixture dish – is purely plain white rice. That’s super-duper Kyoto.

  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi
  • Kyoto - Onryōri Hiwatashi

As you’d expect, the food was good – though it’s more technically impressive than it was in terms of flavour. The stereotypical ‘Kyoto blandness’ was certainly there, and I’ll totally own my uncultured palate in saying so.

So there you have it – Japan’s capital of green tea and battery-by-deer can both be done in the same day! 100% do not recommend. LOL.

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