The town of UJI (宇治), thirty minutes’ train ride south of Kyoto, has a long and illustrious past and boasts one of Japan’s most fabulous buildings, the Byōdō-in – for a preview, look at the reverse side of a ¥10 coin. Somehow this eleventh-century hall, with its glorious statue of Amida Buddha, survived war, fire and years of neglect, and today preserves a stunning display of Heian-period art at its most majestic. Uji is also famous for being the setting of the final chapters of The Tale of Genji, and there is now a museum entirely devoted to this aspect of the town’s past. While you’re here, see the tea fields and sample some of Uji’s famous green tea; since the fourteenth century, this area’s tea leaves have been rated among the best in the country. Uji can easily be visited on a half-day excursion from Kyoto, and it’s only a little bit further from Nara.

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