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Spend a Day in Uji
Green Tea, World Heritage Sites, Ukai Cormorant Fishing and a LOT MORE

The countryside city of Uji lies just a few kilometers from the southeastern part of Kyoto and was the aristocrats favorite place to build their villas during the Heian period (794-1185) due to the areas superb natural beauty. Besides being famous for its temples, seasonal river-side scenery and quaint countryside homes and estates, the city is known as the capital of Japanese tea.

Uji is also home to the two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Byodo-in Temple and Ujigami Shrine. Just a short train ride from the central Kyoto area will let you discover the history, attractions and fun activities in Uji. Why not hop on the train and encounter another distinctive aspect of Kyoto?

Access to Uji from central Kyoto
1) From Kyoto Stn. JR Nara Line, it takes 17-min. by express train to Uji Stn.; 2) From Keihan Sanjo, go to Chushojima Stn., and take the Uji Local Line to Uji Stn. (takes about 40-min. in total)

Must-visit Dining & Tea Break Spots

Exclusive Japanese Green Tea Salon
Tea Salon ''Sabo TOKA''
Located in the precinct of Byodo-in Temple, Tea Salon ''Toka'' offers authentic Uji green tea. Solely using tea leaves harvested in the tea fields of Uji City or neighboring farms, thorough care is taken to control the quality of tea leaves, water temperature and brewing method.

From the very first sip, your taste buds will be impressed by the true ''umami'' of an unsurpassable cup of tea made from a superlative tea leaf. During the severely hot and humid summer, try chilled gyokuro (finest class green tea) and sencha served in a wine glass - such an exclusive treat. The tea is served in this way not only for its elegant appearance but also because it makes the tea's aroma more evident.

Unique chilled matcha is also a must-try. A hot matcha will be served to your table in a bowl and you can then chill by pouring into a glass with ice. Never mind manners, just enjoy the true taste and aroma of matcha from Uji.

Open: 10:00-16:00 (L.O.); Closed Tues.; Tel: 0774-21-2861; www.byodoin.or.jp/en/saboutouka.html

An Array of Drinks and Pub Food in an Authentic Public House
The bright green exterior and British antique furniture decor of Rocking' Hearts will make you feel as if you are visiting a real pub in the UK or Ireland. Guinness, Bass Pale Ale, Hoegaarden White, Heartland and many other craft beers are available on tap! Of course, a variety of classical pub food items await you: fish & chips, burgers, pizza, and more. One of the must-not-miss items is the Stout Pork Curry - Japanese pork and onions are thoroughly cooked in Guinness. Compare the taste of craft beers from around the world, savor delicious pub food, and watch sports on the large screen - You can't ask for more!

Open: 11:00-15:00, 17:00-24:00 (until 3.00 a.m. on Fri., Sat., night before holidays); No break on Sun. & holidays; Tel: 0744-23-3303; http://www.the-rockinhearts.com/

Unique Matcha Food & Drinks
The menu items at GOCHIO Cafe all utilize Uji premium matcha and green tea. Diners can experience a wide selection of matcha-based foods, sweets and drinks. Matcha expresso is made with an Uji premiums of single origin from selected tea farms monthly. The weekday lunch set is available from 11:00 to 14:00 at the reasonable price of 1,000 yen for a main dish, soup and salad and you can add an original dessert for only 480 yen. The cafe's original drinks are very popular, such as matcha soda, matcha latte and matcha beer. A must-try!

Open: 11:00-18:00 (Mon.-Fri.); From 10:00 on Sat., Sun. and national holiday; Tel: 0744-25-3335; gochio.jp

Savor tender yakitori from Kyoto
Jidori-ya Kokoro
Kokoro's highlight is their Kyoto-raised chicken that have been fed only chemicalfree vegetables in natural surroundings and are delivered directly from the farm every morning. Juicy chicken is grilled with quality Binchotan charcoals and guests can also savor the fine texture and delicious flavor of red chicken. A variety of lunch options are available (from 880 yen) as well as a traditional yakitori (skewered chicken) full course for dinner, too. Specially selected Japanese sake that specifically compliments yakitori, Belgian beer and Japanese shochu are also available.

Open: 11:30-13:45 (L.O.), 18:00-23:00 (L.O.); Closed: Sun.; Tel: 0774-22-5584; kokoro-uji.com

August 5; 16:00-22:00
Uji-bashi Street Craft Beer Night Market

Fun summer events are held along Uji-bashi Street, stretching approx. 400 meters from JR Uji Station area to the Uji River. At this Craft Beer Night Market, a number of craft beer breweries based in Kyoto, Osaka, Shiga and other areas are ready to welcome you for an enjoyable summer evening! It is a great opportunity to enjoy tasting and comparing different kinds of Japanese craft beers at reasonable prices: 500 yen per cup! Many other events, such as live music, food stalls and Uji green tea shops will all add to the festivities.

Ukai Traditional Cormorant Fishing in Uji
Elegant Fishing Based on Trust between Usho and Cormorants
*Photo courtesy of Uji City Tourist Association

Ukai, a traditional fishing method with a long history
Ukai is a traditional method of catching small Japanese trout using trained birds called ''u'' (cormorant). Probably, the most famous region for Ukai is on the Nagara River in Gifu Prefecture, but it is also known as one of Kyoto's most exotic and attractive summer tourist attractions.

The Usho, or ''Master trainer'' of cormorants, dressed in an ancient costume, skillfully manipulates 6 cormorants to catch small trout in the water. Ukai is performed in the evening and the only illuminations are the pine torches lit on the boats. The boat is controlled by an experienced boat master who sails it out into the river with the Usho and six cormorants, each of which has a rope tied around its throat with the ends held by the Usho. This prevents cormorants from swallowing fish down into their stomach.

When the boat arrives at the chosen spot, the Usho immediately releases the cormorants who then dive under the water. As soon as the cormorant catch a fish, the Usho hauls in the ropes and retrieves the fish by grabbing the cormorant's throat.

This traditional fishing method was already quite famous in the Heian period (8-12th century). The body of the fish remains undamaged since cormorants swallow them whole and it is said that the fish stay fresher than those caught by other fishing methods since they faint instantly in the cormorants' throat. For these reasons, fish caught by cormorant were considered to be valuable and were often offered to the imperial court and high-ranked samurai. Ukai was cherished and protected by samurai clans in every region.

As time passed, more efficient fishing techniques were developed and Ukai became less popular since it was no longer effectual. Without the protection of the samurai class, the practice of Ukai declined after the Meiji Restoration (1868).

Ukai in Uji
Interview with Mariko Sawaki, the female Usho in Uji

A number of historical records attest that Ukai was already taking place in Uji in the Heian period. It was a popular fishing method and tourist attraction at that time, but as the influence of Buddhism became more widespread along with the absolute power of Byodo-in Temple, the killing and harming of life on Uji River was strictly prohibited. As a result, Ukai ceased until its revival in 1926 as a local summer tourist attraction.

Today in Uji, there are three Usho masters, two of whom are women who were fascinated with Ukai and decided to dedicate their lives to being an Usho. Mariko Sawaki is one of them and she spoke to us of her passion for Ukai and the reason she became an Usho.

KVG: What made you decide to be an Usho?

Mariko: I was born and raised in Shiga Prefecture and went to a college in Kyoto. I had loved birds since when I was a little girl and one day I had a chance to watch Ukai in Arashiyama. It was an absolutely overwhelming experience. I wished to become an Usho immediately but didn't know what to do, so I just rang up the tourist center and asked for information. They were surprised to receive such a question from a young girl, but kindly introduced me to the boat operator and Usho, who is my great teacher and still active as a boat operator and Usho today.

When I told him directly that I really wished to be an Usho, he accepted it quite casually. All I could do was to watch him and learn, but because Ukai is held only for a few months in summer, there was no real practice until the next season came. I tried my very best to learn how to take care of cormorants first of all, and then, how to perform on the boat. I made my debut as an Usho in 2002 and have been spending my life with my cormorants here in Uji since then.

KVG: How do you train cormorants?

Mariko: In general, cormorants for Ukai are caught in the wild and then trained. One's first job as an Usho is to train them, well, to express it more correctly, to establish a sense of ''trust'' with them. Cormorants are intelligent birds, so first of all, we must let them learn that human beings are not scary. If we do something wrong at this stage, they remember it as a terrible memory and never listen to us anymore. Part of the early training is to feed them by hand, becoming closer little by little, until we establish complete trust in each other and become true ''partners.''

What is special about cormorants in Uji is that we are the first to have succeeded in the artificial incubation of cormorants in Japan. Today, we have 7 cormorants which were born here and raised by our hands since their inception. They are so cute. The more I take care of the cormorants, the more my trust and love for them grows.

The busiest time for us is summer. We perform in front of a number of people every night. So, after one season is finished, the cormorants are exhausted and we let them take a long rest from autumn to spring. I spend every day with my cormorants and love to do so.

KVG: What is the best attraction of Ukai?

Mariko: I love Ukai because it is very dynamic yet elegant. In the darkness of the summer evening, we sail out into the river on the boat with cormorants and catch fish in the light of a blazing torch fire. It is such a stunning scene to watch, and what is more, this is exactly how people fished over 1000 years ago. I really wish many people come to watch Ukai, hopefully up close from the boat. It will be an unforgettable experience.

Ukai in Uji
From July 1 to September 30

Time: Reception from 18:00 and the boat departs at 19:00 (30 min. earlier after September 1)
Boat fee: Adults: 2,000 yen, Children: 1,000 yen (under 13).
Contact: Tel: 0774-23-3334 (Uji City Tourist Association)

*Ukai performance will be canceled when the Uji River's water level rises due to bad weather or the sluicing of nearby Amagase Dam.