In the south of Kyoto, a place called Uji is especially famous for its Matcha, Zen culture and the Tale of Genji. Uji is centered around Uji river where various cultures was developed. You can catch fireflies, appreciate traditional cormorant fishing or observe the charm of the statue of MURASAKI Shikibu, the author of the Tale of Genji.
The History of Uji River That Flows Through the Town of Uji
The Uji city in the south of Kyoto Prefecture has the 2nd largest population after Kyoto city in Kyoto prefecture. The Uji river which is one of the famous rivers in Kyoto has flowed for over a thousand years. The Uji bridge was built in the mid-7th century and the whole of Uji was greatly developed as it was an important water and land resource point in Nara, Kyoto and Shiga.
During the Heian period, Mr. FUJIWARA, an aristocrat, owned a villa in the Uji area. This is one of the reasons the culture adopted by the aristocrats bloomed in Uji. The Phoenix Hall in Uji was said to be a building that represented that era. Before the Byodo-in Phoenix Hall was built, the female writer, MURASAKI Shikibu wrote a novel that depicts the aristocratic society of the Heian period called the Tale of Genji. The cormorant fishing technique was also said to have been founded in the Heian period.
The Uji River flows from the southern end of Biwa Lake, Shiga, through the Kyoto Valley, merges at Yodogawa and flows into the Osaka Bay. Originally, the Uji River flows directly to the Osaka Bay, but was reconstructed by TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi in a way that it flows pass the Fushimi-Momoyama Castle. This was done so that they could utilize the Uji River to carry goods and building materials for the construction of Fushimi-Momoyama Castle in 1594.
Firefly Hunting in the Uji River: An Essence of the Summer Life
Among the fireflies in Japan, the most common ones are the Genji fireflies and the Heike fireflies. It would be nice if it has any connections to the Tale of Genji.
Uji river has long been well known to be a home to fireflies. Named after the famous scene in the Tale of Genji where main character Hikaru Genji released the fireflies, the big fireflies in Uji river was named Genji. The smaller fireflies were then named Heike. At the same time, when the two types of fireflies fly together, it looks like the Genpei War (源平の合戦). Seeing that the Gen (源) side has won, the common people named the bigger fireflies Genji (源氏) and the smaller one Heike (平家).
Every year from late-May to June, fireflies watching events will be held in Uji City Plant Park, so don’t miss those cute fireflies in action.
Cormorant Fishing in Uji River: Over a Thousand-Year-Old culture
Cormorant fishing is a traditional way used by the Japanese to capture fish. They let the cormorant into the river and then retrieve the cormorant when they have caught a fish in their beak. This can be seen in other parts of Japan, but the cormorant fishing in Uji River is from the Heian period, therefore possessing a much higher historical value. Cormorant fishing is mostly handled by the males and is a professional occupation. It is very rare in Uji’s cormorant fishing to actually see a group 2 out of 3 professionals being female.
Cormorant fishing in Uji River has reduced drastically over the years, but you can still see them while on a tour boat during July to September every year.
The Statue of MURASAKI Shikibu at the Banks of the Uji River
Due to the novel Tale of Genji possessing a high rank in the Japanese literary, the author MURASAKI Shikibu will always be closely tied to Uji. If you come to Uji, please visit the statue of Murasaki Shikibu placed between the Uji River and the Uji bridge.
- Name of location: Uji River
- Address: Uji city, Kyoto
- Access: 5-minute walk from Keihan line/JR line’s Uji station