A red pedestrian bridge spans the river (Photo: Cathy Cawood)

Bridges and Boats on the Uji River

Beautiful area perfect for day trips from Kyoto

A red pedestrian bridge spans the river (Photo: Cathy Cawood)
Cathy Cawood   - 5 min read

Uji has one of the oldest bridge sites in Japan. A bridge was first constructed here in 646 (of course, it has been rebuilt many times in the intervening centuries.) Along with many other Uji sites, the bridge is mentioned in Murasaki Shikibu's novel, The Tale of Genji. A statue of the world's first novel writer has been placed at one end of Uji Bridge to celebrate this literary connection. Today, a fairly busy road passes over the bridge, and just 5 minutes walk from the bridge you can find Uji Station on the Keihan Nara Line. There are tea and souvenir shops near the bridge, and famous Byodo-in Temple is also just a few minutes away.

<p>Statue of Murasaki Shikibu with Uji Bridge in the background</p>
Statue of Murasaki Shikibu with Uji Bridge in the background

Pedestrian bridges and green tea

If you stand on Uji Bridge and look up the river, you will see a red bridge some distance away. This is a footbridge connecting the quiet tree-lined river bank on one side to a narrow island with stone pagoda. The island connects with the Byodo-in side of the river by two smaller footbridges, and the bank on that side has more souvenir shops and restaurants. Uji area is famous for green tea production, so there are tea shops too, and in the restaurants you can usually sample tea-themed delicacies like matcha ice-cream or noodles.

<p>Walking across the pedestrian bridge</p>
Walking across the pedestrian bridge

River cruises, cormorant fishing and other special events

Around the island you can see many small boats. These are available for river tours during the day, and are used for cormorant fishing on summer nights, between June and September. Larger boats accommodate banquets for groups. Several events are also held in this area. There is a fishing festival and a dragon boat Festival in May, and on 10th August you can join approximately 200,000 other people for the Uji Fireworks Festival. This may be the only time Uji is really crowded.

<p>Dragon boat races on the river in May</p>
Dragon boat races on the river in May

Views of Amagase Dam

There are two more bridges further upstream near Amagase Dam. This arch type dam was built to provide flood control over the river, supply drinking water to Uji, and generate electricity. It was completed in 1964, and created a long lake in the beautiful gorge behind the dam, named Ho-o Lake (Phoenix Lake, because the shape resembles a bird with outspread wings.) The bridge nearest the dam offers excellent views, but you can also climb a 10 minute trail to a lookout point in the nearby Amagase Forest Park.

It is impossible to overstate the beauty and charm of this area. It is easily equal to the better known Arashiyama, but much less crowded. The riverside is lined with cherry trees. There are beautiful temples and shrines along both river banks, including famous Byodo-in, Kosho-ji with its Dragon Palace Gate, idyllic paths and picnic spots, and it has all the convenient facilities like public toilets, a nearby station, and restaurants to suit every budget. It is the perfect place for a day-trip from Kyoto.

<p>Boats for cormorant fishing under the red pedestrian bridge</p>
Boats for cormorant fishing under the red pedestrian bridge
Cathy Cawood

Cathy Cawood @cathy.cawood

 I came to Japan in 2003 to teach English. I lived in Shiga prefecture for 1 year, and it still holds a special place in my heart. I lived in Kyoto for 9 years, then moved to Machida, Tokyo in 2014 after meeting my Japanese partner. I love to take photos, and my Japan in Pictures Facebook page ha...