When traveling in Kyoto it is easy to get tired from not only all the walking you do but from the crowds of people when you visit any of the popular sightseeing spots. This one day tour to Ujitawara to visit tea fields and enjoy different styles of Japanese tea is the perfect way to take a break from the big city.
What is Uji Tea?
Uji City in Kyoto is famous for its green tea. In fact, it is considered to be one of Japan’s 3 Greatest Teas alongside Sayama tea and Shizuoka tea. The area known for making Uji tea spreads from Uji in Kyoto to Nara, Shiga, and Mie prefectures, but the main location is Uji. It is said that the origins of tea cultivation in Uji date back to the 13th century. The area is blessed with good topography and soil quality among other favorable conditions which lead to the fast expansion of tea cultivation. If you are a tea lover, or if you would just like to get away from the hustle and bustle of Kyoto City for a day, then you must try this one day tour to tea fields in Ujitawara where you can pick your own tea leaves (depending on the season) and enjoy freshly brewed Uji tea.
One Day Tour Part 1: Tea Fields
Getting There and Meeting Family Travel Partners
When we joined the tour, my daughter and I made our way to Uji Station to meet the taxi for the tour, but they also have a plan for a taxi to pick you up from your hotel in Kyoto City. From Uji Station, it is about a 30-minute drive to Ujitawara. The scenery as you leave the city and head into the countryside is absolutely breathtaking. The first stop was at Yantan (Soen Koyuan Yantan) which is located in an area of Ujitawara called Yuyadani and is considered to be the birthplace of green tea in Japan. We met our Family Travel Partners, a couple of local moms who spoke English and were our guides for the day. They gave us a quick overview of what we were going to do as well as bottles of water since we were going to be outside. The day we participated in was quite hot, so I really appreciated the water. I want to mention that as the Family Travel Partners are local moms they sometimes bring their kids along for the tours. This is great because it gives your kids a chance to play with local kids, something they can`t usually do when traveling.
Tea Fields for Picking
From Yantan we loaded back up into the taxis and headed to our next stop, a private tea field. Typically we wouldn’t be able to go into a random tea field, so I felt like it was a special experience for my daughter and me. It wasn’t a long drive and one of the Family Travel Partners told me we could actually walk, but it was uphill and since it was so hot and we had small kids in our group taking the taxi was better. If the weather was a bit cooler and you were with kids a bit older than my child, then I think walking would be quite nice. At the tea field, we were given woven baskets to collect tea leaves in. The owner of the field gave us a brief explanation of how to pick the leaves in Japanese. Thank goodness for the Family Travel Partners being there so they could translate for us. The owner led some of the kids down a row of tea plants and helped them pick some tea leaves. The kids were especially excited about this and couldn’t wait to show us how many they had picked. The field owner told us that the leaves at the top of the stem are the best and make the highest quality of tea. Also, new leaves keep budding after others are picked, so the tea can be harvested two or three times a year!
Home of Soen Nagatani
Our next stop was the home of Soen Nagatani, who is responsible for the tea which is drunk all over Japan today called, sencha. His home is sort of a small museum with some of his belongings and even what’s left of his furnace which he used to dry the tea leaves in his experiments with different ways of preparing tea. Before Nagatani, the tea drunk all over Japan was more of a brown color and not the beautiful and fresh green tea which we can drink today. Just above Nagatani’s house is a shrine called Chasoumyou Jinja. Tea farmers and owners of tea shops from around the country come here to pray for good tea harvests each year.
Picnic in a Tea Field
By now our stomachs were starting to rumble, so when our Family Travel Partners said it was time for lunch we were happy. We made our way to yet another tea field and they prepared a blue vinyl sheet as well as a couple of tables for us to use for lunch. We were given individual lunch boxes which included three rice balls with different flavors, some fries, and some sort of pickled tea leaves, as well as glasses of tea. After eating the kids got to run around and burn off energy looking for bugs and we took turns doing a casual style open-air tea ceremony. My image of a tea ceremony is that it is quite a stiff affair, so experiencing this more relaxed style was nice. The Family Travel Partner, as well as a staff member from the tea shop, explained how to mix the matcha powder with the hot water and we received a small sweet to eat with our tea to cut down a bit on the bitterness. The combination of the sweet treat and the slightly bitter tea was just perfect and even my daughter loved it.
One Day Tour Part Two: Different Ways of Using Tea
How to Make Different Types of Tea
Finally, we made our way back to Yantan where we got to see how the tea leaves were processed into three different kinds of tea. It was so interesting to see that the different kinds of tea are all made from the same leaves. We learned how to make bancha, sencha, and matcha. Bancha and sencha were both heated, but at different temperatures. The bancha was made by heating at a higher temperature of 200 °C (392°F) and just moving the leaves around as they heated until they were almost black which took about 10 minutes. Sencha was heated at a much lower temperature of 80 °C (176°F) and we massaged the leaves and broke them apart by hand over and over to make a very fine tea. Finally, matcha was made by adding the tea leaves into a millstone grinder and grinding the leaves into a very fine powder. As we saw the various ways of making different teas, the store staff brewed some of the tea we made for us to taste and it was a great experience to drink tea brewed from leaves we picked and treated.
Other Ways to Use Tea Leaves
As we all received some tea leaves to take home, we were wondering what we could do with them. We received some that were already prepared to be brewed for drinking, but we also got to take home some fresh tea leaves which we picked in the tea fields. One staff member at Yantan told us, through our Family Travel Partner’s translation that we could steam the leaves in the microwave. She said that bigger leaves were delicious when prepared tempura style and eaten with salt. Tea leaves also have a deodorizing effect and you can roast the leaves in a frying pan and the smoke created will deodorize the room. They also have an antibacterial effect so gargling with the brewed tea may be effective in fighting off bacterial infections.
Drink Tea, Relax, Shop
As we finished learning and helping make the different types of tea, we got to enjoy some freshly brewed tea made from the leaves we had picked. Yantan sells various souvenirs and of course different tea products. As you are waiting for the taxi to go back you will have a bit of time to browse the items in the shop and pick up some souvenirs for yourself if you would like. They also have some matcha sweets, so if you have time please try them!
Go on a One Day Tour to Tea Fields for a Unique Experience
After a few days in Kyoto, you may be feeling tired from walking around and the crowds of people. The one day tour to tea fields in Ujitawara is the perfect escape from the noisiness of the city and it is a truly unique experience. From picking tea leaves in a private tea field to a picnic lunch and open-air tea ceremony this tour is filled with things you can’t do anywhere else. The experience is enhanced with the assistance of the local English speaking moms known as Family Travel Partners. Not only did they assist us by acting as translators between our group and the local people, but it was also interesting to talk with them about raising children and I realized that all moms go through similar things when raising kids. This one day tour to tea fields in the countryside of Kyoto is a day your family will always remember.
How to Apply for the One Day Tea Fields Tour
While this one day tour is available all year, you can enjoy tea picking from late May through early October. In the winter they have different activities you can participate in indoors and you still get to see the beautiful scenery of Ujitawara. You can apply for this one-day tea fields tour through Kyoto with Kids. Please check here.