I think it was last year that Kyoto beat Paris as the top travel destination in the world, and thanks to the Japanese government's robust efforts, both foreign and domestic tourism to Kyoto has exploded in recent years. Only a few years ago in 2010 I could go to Arashiyama on a weekday afternoon and walk through the bamboo forest slowly and quietly, and take photos with no people in them. There is no way to do that now, unless perhaps one visits very very early in the morning.
However, this is not to say that all of Kyoto has been taken over by crowds and policemen shouting in megaphones reminding you it's very crowded and to keep moving. In fact it seems to me that tourists are shuttled to certain areas, leaving others still very peaceful and relaxing.
One of my favorites of those places is Uji.
Uji is situated on the southern outskirts of Kyoto City, on the Uji River (elsewhere known as the familiar Yodogawa), easily accessed from JR or Kintetsu train lines for a few hundred yen (less than $5). All of its major sites are within walking distance of the stations and each other. Here are some good ones:
The face of Uji and "heads" on the 10-yen coin, this temple was originally founded in 1052 AD. It has of course been damaged, burned, and repaired several times. An old proverb says, "If you doubt the existence of heaven visit Byodo-in". One time when I went there at the beginning of August we were treated to a free music and dance performance for the Tanabata holiday season. It was really special.
traditional cormorant fishing on summer nights.
|Tsuen's matcha parfait|
The Tale of Genji Museum
Uphill and separated from the major spots by a 15-minute walk or so is this lovely temple; it gets crowded at the end of June when its famed hydrangeas bloom, but you can expect a quiet, relaxing wander through its gardens all the rest of the year. The two times I have been there on weekdays we had it to ourselves. Lotuses bloom until the middle of August, and in its gardens you can see the dramatic effect of "borrowed scenery" as its cultivated areas blend seamlessly with the surrounding forests and hills. Beginning in May or so you can hear nightingales calling from the forest. Heaven!
All these places and many others here and there in the area make Uji just lovely for walking around and exploring slowly, soaking up the atmosphere of old Kyoto. Most tourists seem to leave it out of their itineraries, but in my opinion, if you are traveling to Kyoto and want to skip the crowds and get a taste (literally!) of the city and its history, I highly recommend a day in Uji.