The rainy season is in full swing in Japan, and most days are overcast and wet. Even a sunny day often turns gray and rainy by afternoon, but don't let that get you down. June is the time for hydrangea flowers, and Kyoto Prefecture has one of the best spots in Japan to see these beautiful blossoms.
I recently visited the suburb area of Uji, just south of Kyoto. Uji is mainly known for it's tea. In fact, a huge portion of Japan's tea comes from this town just a short train ride south of Kyoto City. Lovers of Japanese literature will also find interest in Uji, as it was the setting for a large portion of the famous 11th century Tale of Genji, the world's first novel. Uji is also home to Ujigami Jinja Shinre, supposedly Japan's oldest standing Shinto shrine. If you collect goshuin temple seals, the one from Ujigami Jinja is great one to add to your collection! There's plenty to see and do (and eat and drink) in Uji, and it's well worth a half day visit from Kyoto City.
My recent trip to Uji was to visit a specific temple that I had heard about. Mimurotoji Temple (三室戸寺) is well known for its various seasonal gardens... azaleas in May, lotus in summer, and autumn leaves in November. As you can see below, this temple and gardens surrounding it look great in any season.
But the main reason I was there was for the TONS of hydrangeas that bloom during the rainy season in June. I'm not a big flower guy, but the hydrangeas on display here were amazing!
It's become something of a popular local game to try and spot the heart shaped flowers mixed into the landscape. These hydrangea hearts were a big trending topic on Twitter and Instagram in Japan this year. I found a few as I walked through the massive garden of hydrangeas bursting with color.
The only downside to Mimurotoji Temple is that it's a bit of a walk from the train station. Most visitors will arrive via JR train and get off at Uji Station, and it's about a 30 minute walk up into the foothills from there. The temple is a bit closer to Mimurodo Station on the Keihan line, so this is a viable option as well. Regardless, most of your time in Uji will be spent walking around the area near these stations anyway, where you can enjoy the beautiful river scenery, try some local tea, and visit the local historical sites.
Since I was in the area, I also visited Mampukuji Zen Temple. It's a short walk from Obaku Station (both JR and Keihan stop here), and Mampukuji is quite a unique spot. Much more Chinese in style than other temples in Kyoto, this cast temple complex houses a great laughing Buddha statue and some impressively large halls and excellent statue collections. The famous hanging wooden fish bell has become something of the mascot for this temple. Best of all, it's rarely visited by foreigners and locals alike, so you'll most likely have the whole place to yourself!
Uji is a great half day trip outside of Kyoto, and Mimurotoji is definitely worth visiting. I'm looking forward to seeing the garden in other seasons in the future, but the June hydrangeas are definitely the best time to visit.