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Rent a Car and Explore the Southern Part of Kyoto! Go on a One-Day Road Trip Around Kyoto Tea Country!

2022.03.28

When it comes to Kyoto, the first impression that most people have is that of temples and tea. This time, we invite you to take a drive around Kyoto Tea Country in the southern part of Kyoto. There, you will visit Shoju-in Temple, which houses a lovely heart-shaped window, and Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, which was once revered by the samurai. In addition, you will enter the birthplace of Japanese green tea, where you will learn about the local history and get a taste of some delicious Japanese refreshments. Let’s travel at our own pace and take a drive around Kyoto Tea Country together, without being limited by train and bus times!

Suggested route for one-day road trip around Kyoto Tea Country

08:00AM Pick up a car from the car rental company and depart from Kyoto (for details, please refer to the small guide to renting a car at the end of this article)
→ Drive to the Kumiyama IC via the Second Keihan Highway, take the Keiji Bypass to the Kasatori IC, then drive along the route towards Ujitawara About 50 minutes

① Shoju-in Temple (9:00AM-10:00AM)
* The temple opens at 10:00AM from December to March, so please be mindful of your departure time
→ Drive to Soenkoyuan YANTAN About 10 minutes

② Soenkoyuan YANTAN (10:15AM-11:15AM)
→ Walk to the birthplace of Nagatani Soen About 15 minutes

③ Birthplace of Nagatani Soen (11:30AM-12:00PM)
→ Return to Soenkoyuan YANTAN for lunch (12:15PM-1:30PM)
→ Drive to Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine About 1 hour

④ Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine (2:30PM-3:30PM)
→ Walk to Hashiriimochi-rouho About 10 minutes

⑤ Hashiriimochi-rouho (3:45PM-4:30PM)
→ Drive back to Kyoto via the Second Keihan Highway, and return the car to the car rental company About 40 minutes

  

After picking up a car at Kyoto Station, make your way to the first stop at Shoju-in Temple! It will take about 50 minutes to get there via a toll road. However, be careful as the road entering Shoju-in Temple is relatively narrow. When driving, please pay attention to the pedestrians around you and the cars approaching from the other side, and slow down for safety. There are free parking lots located on both sides of the road in front of the temple and they can accommodate 60 vehicles collectively.

First stop: Go to Shoju-in Temple to meditate and engage in applied thinking

Shoju-in Temple belongs to the Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan. In its main building, there is an eleven-faced Kannon statue enshrined, which is designated as a cultural property of Ujitawara. The statue is made available for public worship only once every 50 years. In addition, there is also a statue of Fudo Myo-o, which is the work of Kaikei, a well-known Japanese sculptor of Buddhist statues, and is also an important cultural property.

This establishment used to be the temple school, where children were taught arithmetic and ethics. In recent years, its heart-shaped window and ceiling paintings have become topics of discussion on major social media platforms in Japan, and are widely loved by tourists from all over the world.

  

◆Popular photo spots at Shoju-in Temple
  

1. Heart-shaped window

The heart-shaped window located in the guest room, known as “Sokuten no Ma,” has been the focus of attention of Shoju-in Temple in recent years, and is officially named the “Inome-window” (boar eye window). In Japanese temple or shrine buildings, this style of shape is called the boar eye, which signifies the ability to prevent fire and ward off evil spirits. Through the Inome-window, you can see the scenery of the garden outside, which changes with each season, as exhibited by the cherry blossoms in spring, the emerald green in summer, the beautiful maple red in autumn, and the snow white in winter. During a certain period of time, the garden is illuminated at night, and an opportunity is also given for you to see the dreamy moment of “two hearts beating as one,” where sunlight passes through the window and forms the shadow of a heart. Due to these features, the Inome-window is particularly appealing to the younger generation.

  

2. Ceiling paintings

In addition to the Inome-window, the 160 colorful and magnificent paintings that are displayed on the ceiling of the guest room are also very eye-catching. Featured in these paintings are flowers, plants and landscapes that represent the four seasons in Japan, along with beautiful Maiko. Also, in each of the four corners, the paintings feature four gods, “the blue dragon of the East, the white tiger of the West, the black tortoise of the North, and the vermilion bird of the South.” The cover designs on the brochure for Shoju-in Temple are also ingenious, and are available in three versions. While admiring the ceiling paintings, you may as well look at the brochure you got, and try to figure out where the picture on the cover is located on the ceiling. This is the small added joy of visiting Shoju-in Temple!

Shoju-in Temple

Shoju-in Temple

Located in Ujitawara in Kyoto, Shoju-in Temple was built around 800 years ago, and belongs to the Koyasan Shingonshu sect of Buddhism. According to records, during the Sengoku (1467-1615) and Edo peri …

Second stop: Go to Soenkoyuan YANTAN to experience making green tea with a stone mortar

It takes about 10 minutes to drive from Shoju-in Temple to “Soenkoyuan YANTAN.” Along the way, you will see the landscape of many simple and primitive tea fields that have been preserved from the Edo period (1603-1867). Also, the road you will be taking is narrow, so remember to slow down and drive carefully!

Soenkoyuan YANTAN is a facility that is jointly operated by local residents and tea farmers. It was renovated from a tea factory, and is now lofty, spacious and well-lit. The facility’s free parking lot can accommodate 12 cars and is equipped with clean toilets. You can park your car there and take a walk around the vicinity.

  

If you have plenty of time, we also recommend you to experience the traditional process of making green tea with a stone mortar. At the facility, an experienced local tea farmer will give a demonstration, and share the history and process of making green tea. Following this, you will then grind some tencha (tea leaves, the raw material of green tea) into fine green tea powder, and use a tea whisk to whip up a cup of green tea by yourself.

  

◆Making green tea with a stone mortar (requires about 1 hour)
  

1. Pour in the tencha
Pour the tencha into the hole on the top part of the stone mortar. Tencha are tea leaves that are plucked from tea plantations and processed through steaming, cooling, drying, sorting and so forth.

  

2. Grind
The stone mortar has fine grooves. When you rotate the handle, the tea leaves are ground into green tea powder that flows out through the grooves. Ideally, the handle should be rotated at a rate of 50 to 60 times per minute. However, even after grinding for an hour, only about 40 grams of green tea powder can be made.

  

3. Make green tea
Learn how to make tea by yourself and taste the green tea you make on your own! Drinking self-made green tea at the place where tea is produced will surely taste a lot better.

  

* Click here to view/book more experience activities at Soenkoyuan YANTAN

Chakabuki Tea Tasting Experience (Soenkoyuan YANTAN)

Chakabuki is a kind of tea guessing game, in which participants try to remember the flavor of a tea they’ve drunk once, and determine which out of several teas was the same one they’d had before. This program is easy to understand, even for first-timers.

Soenkoyuan YANTAN is a rennovated former tea-processing factory located in Yuyadani in the town of Ujitawara, the birthplace of Japanese tea. Now, it is a heartwarming place of community, presented with the hospitality of the local people. You can find tourist information, special products such as tea on sale, and tea-related experiential programs to discover the area’s charm. In addition to the tea and sweets at the coffee shop, you can also enjoy lunch made using local products on weekends.

Third stop: Go to the birthplace of Nagatani Soen to familiarize yourself with the originator of Japanese green te

After learning about the tea-making process through experience, let’s go and see the birthplace of the originator of green tea, Nagatani Soen! It will take about 15 minutes to walk there from Soenkoyuan YANTAN. The area, which was once covered by the sea, is thought to have uplifted and become dry land 15 million years ago. Therefore, you may find some shellfish and plant fossils on your way to the birthplace of Nagatani Soen. Also, along the sides of the road, you will see the streetscape of Yantan, which is recognized as a scenic asset of Kyoto. There, you can find many tea leaf wholesale shops and farmhouses that are full of delight. However, since the road is extremely narrow and is also a passage that is used by local residents in their daily lives, please avoid walking side by side and disturbing others there.

The birthplace of Nagatani Soen is the place where Soen lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the building we see now was rebuilt in 1960. Inside, there are remnants of a drying furnace that was used around 300 years ago for Japan’s unique and innovative Uji-cha production method (aosei sencha seiho). Through the video, you can also get a glimpse of the tea making method and Soen’s footsteps along the way. The district that contains the birthplace of Nagatani Soen is designated as a constituent cultural property of Japan’s number one heritage, “the walk through of the 800-year history of Japanese tea”. Outside tours are free, while inside tours are only available on weekends and national holidays.

If you are hungry after strolling around, you can go back to Soenkoyuan YANTAN to taste the specialty cuisine there, that is, the Cha-jiru set. Originally, this was plain food that was eaten by local tea farmers when they plucked tea leaves. However, it is now certified as a “Centennial Delicacy” by Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs, and is a very unique local cuisine. Please be sure to try out the “Seasonal Cha-jiru set.” After you’ve had enough to eat and drink, don’t forget to buy some souvenirs. There are teas sold directly by local tea farmers, and the popular items there are Soen sencha tea leaves and green tea powder.

Birthplace of Nagatani Souen

Birthplace of Nagatani Souen

This is the birthplace of Nagatani Souen (reconstructed in 1960), who built the foundations of Japanese tea leaf preparation through his development and popularization of the “Aosei Sencha Method” in …

After a full meal, continue on to the next attraction―Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, which is about an hour’s drive away. Along the way, you’ll pass by a tea plantation, so it’s better to slow down and enjoy the beautiful scenery! Once you arrive at Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, we suggest you to park your car in the parking lot next to Tongu (improvised palace), which can accommodate around 70 cars and charges a fee of 500 yen. After parking your car, take the adjacent cable car up the mountain (there is also a coin-operated parking lot next to the cable car). The ticket for riding the cable car up and down the mountain will cost 600 yen. After about 3 minutes, get off at Yamagami Station and walk for another 5 minutes to reach the main building of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine.

Fourth stop: Feel the divine energy at Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, which guards over Kyoto

Located in the southwest of Kyoto, Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine was founded in 860 AD and is one of the three major shrines that is dedicated to Hachiman, the god of war. As Kyoto’s “Urakimon” (back-demons’ gate)*, it has guarded Kyoto since ancient times. The shrine has a long history and belongs to the noble rank. It is famous for expelling evil spirits and blessing victory, and was revered by the three heroes of the Warring States Period—Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu—as well as some well-known military commanders.

* Urakimon (back-demons’ gate): In the way of yin and yang, Urakimon refers to the southwest part of a building and is a place where monsters roam about. Since ancient times, it has been avoided as taboo.

  

◆Must-see attractions of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine
  

1. Main building of the shrine

If you walk from the main gate along the approach to the main building, which is listed as a national treasure, you will find that the approach is not directly facing the main building but is slightly skewed to one side. This was designed to show respect to the gods. The main building has been rebuilt many times since its establishment, and the current building that stands was restored by Tokugawa Iemitsu, who was the third shogun (military ruler) of the Tokugawa family in the Edo period (1603-1867). The inner building and outer building are collectively described as the “hachiman-zukuri” architectural style, which is a type of shrine style where a front structure and a rear structure are connected to form a single main building. The main deity that is worshiped there is the 15th emperor of Japan, Emperor Ojin.

Right picture: Aerial photo of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine

  

2. Torii gate, tower door and pigeons

Pigeons are the messengers of the Hachiman deity (Emperor Ojin). Therefore, within the boundaries of the shrine, there are many important structures that are related to pigeons, including the torii gate on the main entrance path and the tower door. On the plaque above the granite torii gate, the three golden characters that read “Hachimangu Shrine” were written by Shokado Shojo, who was a famous monk in the Edo period. In particular, the character for “Hachi” was written in a way that resembles a pair of pigeons gazing at one another. In addition, the pair of golden pigeons that are seen on the door to the tower of the main building have different mouth shapes. Similar to the lion-like yet dog-like guardian dogs that are commonly found in major shrines in Japan, the two pigeons there have mouth shapes that depict “harmonization.”

  

Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine

Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine

One of the three main shrines bearing the name Hachimangu, Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine was dedicated to a god for the protection of the nation in 860. After the main shrine was restored by Oda Nobuna …

Fifth stop: Taste the famous “Hashirii-mochi rice cake” in front of the gate

After visiting Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, take the cable car down the mountain. On the way back from the cable car station to the parking lot of Tongu, you will arrive at Hashiriimochi-rouho, which is a long-established Japanese confectionary store located next to the first torii gate. Once there, don’t forget to eat the local area’s most representative Japanese confectionary known as Hashirii-mochi rice cake. The current Hashiriimochi-rouho, which has been passed down for ten generations, was founded in Otsu, Shiga in 1764, and was later moved to its current location in Yawata, Kyoto.

Hashirii is a term that refers to water that wells up from a spring, which was once used to give Japanese emperors their first bath. Therefore, rice cakes that are made with such fine water are named Hashirii-mochi rice cakes. The skin of these rice cakes, which is made from Shiga’s habutae glutinous rice, is soft and elastic, and is wrapped around a red bean paste filling that carries an elegant and soft sweetness. Through this, the rice cakes greatly satisfy the taste buds with their delicious taste.

Every year, New Year’s Day proves to be the busiest and most bustling day for the old store. After going to the shrine to pray for blessings in the year to come, the local men, women and children have a custom of eating Hashirii-mochi rice cakes and once again praying for good luck in the new year. Come and have a bite of the Hashirii-mochi rice cakes to create a perfect ending to a beautiful day. Afterwards, carefully drive back to Kyoto Station to return your car!

Right picture: The unique shape of the Hashirii-mochi rice cakes is actually modeled after a knife, which was inspired by a story where a famous sword was created with water that welled up from a spring.
Hashirii Mochi

Hashirii Mochi

This is an old store that was established over 250 years ago, and it is located in front of Ichi no Torii (the first torii gate) at the foot of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine. The store is famous for it …

This time, we took you on a trip to Kyoto Tea Country located in the southern part of Kyoto, where there are simple and beautiful tea plantations and natural sceneries, temples and shrines with a long history, as well as simple and friendly residents. We recommend you to travel by car, to slow down and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the mountains and the delicious cuisine, and to get in touch with the customs and culture in the “local area.” Come to Kyoto Tea Country to experience a healing journey where you can relax your body and mind!

Small guide to renting a car

Here is a brief introduction to the Japanese car-renting process (this article uses “Times Car Rental” and holders of the Republic of China, Taiwan passports for a model example)

Step 1. Enter the homepage of the car rental website, and select a booking time and store
Step 2. Check the car model, price and extra rental items (such as whether you need to rent a baby seat or other items as extra)
Step 3. Lastly, fill in your personal information such as your name and email address, along with your payment method
Step 4. Go to your inbox to receive the booking confirmation email (if you want to cancel the booking due to changes in your itinerary, please remember to cancel it six days before the booking time. If you cancel less than six days before, a handling fee will be charged)
This completes the online car rental booking!
For details, please refer to the official website of “Times Car Rental

★Friendly reminders:
1. Please prepare the relevant documents such as your passport and driver’s license when picking up the car. For details, please click here.
2. There are car rental companies near airports and train stations in major cities of Japan. Also, it is very convenient to rent a car when you arrive on site. However, since bookings fill up easily on weekends or consecutive holidays, we recommend you to make an advance online booking as early as possible!

  

Japanese traffic rules

Please read the relevant traffic rules in Japan before departing, and be a law-abiding traveler!