Historic bridge with literary connections
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.
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.
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.
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.