Three Battles of Uji-gawa took place here in 1180, 1184, and 1221.
Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358–1408) promoted cultivation of green tea in the Uji area. Since that time Uji has been an important production and distribution center of superior quality green tea. Tsuen tea has been served since 1160 and is still sold in what is the oldest tea shop in Japan, and possibly the world--the Tsuen tea shop.
The final chapters of the Tale of Genji are set in Uji, attracting visiting literature buffs from all over the world.
Most visitors are attracted to Uji for its centuries old historic sites which include many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Among the most famous are the Ujigami Shrine (built in 1060) and the Byōdō-in which are listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto." The Byōdō-in, with its Amida (Phoenix) Hall built in 1053, is featured on the reverse side of the 10 yen coin.
Other religious sites include the Mampuku-ji, the head temple of the Ōbaku Zen sect, built in Chinese Ming style in 1661 and the Zen temple Kōshō-ji, with its famous Kotozaka entrance (framed with dense thickets of cherry, kerria, azalea, and maple trees, each of which dramatically changes color with the seasons) constructed in 1648. Also noteworthy is the Mimurodo-ji, which is famous for its abundance of purple hydrangeas. The city also features numerous other small Shinto shrines. With a few exceptions, most of the important historical sites are located within walking distance of one another and all are easily accessed by rail.
Due to its striking natural setting, Uji also boasts many natural attractions, including the scenic Uji riverside, several large parks, and a botanical garden. Slightly upriver from Uji bridge, the Amagase dam spans the river and day trippers can walk to its base in about an hour. The route, which begins directly across from Keihan Uji Station, is a wonderful walk alongside the river on a paved road and offers access to several grassy open spaces where people can rest and picnic.
The city hosts two major festivals each year. The Agata Festival, held on June 5, begins in the early morning and runs until late at night. The festival is famous throughout western Japan for the activities that are rumored to take place when the lights are suddenly doused at midnight. Also, like many cities in Japan, Uji hosts an hours long fireworks festival on August 10. Both events draw huge crowds and require that the town's main thoroughfare to be shut down.
Uji is served by three rail companies: JR West, Keihan, and Kintetsu. The Keihan line which runs primarily between Kyoto City and downtown Osaka serves the city via a branch line Uji Line running from Chushojima station and ending along the river at Keihan Uji Station beside the Uji Bridge. The station is conveniently located close to Uji's Tale of Genji Town, Uji Bridge, and the Byodoin. All trains on this line are local and stop at every station.
The JR Nara Line runs between Kyoto and Nara. JR Uji station was, until a few years ago, a fairly rural station but was recently rebuilt as a more modern station to better serve the city. Architecturally it mimics the Byodo-in and is on the opposite side of the Uji river, about 10 minutes' walk from Keihan Uji Station. The clock that stands in front of the station is of special interest and, every hour on the hour, opens to reveal an automated show that celebrates the town's heritage as a center of tea production. Like Keihan Uji Station, JR Uji also has easy access to all the same sites. The station is served by both local and express trains.
Kintetsu serves West Uji with a line between Kyoto and Nara and does not have a station named for the town. The line is primarily used by commuters. No stations are close to the main tourist sites.
Uji is located south of the main Meishin Expressway and is served directly by the Keiji Bypass, a toll road that was completed only a few years ago. The Keiji Bypass serves to circumvent both Kyoto and Otsu which can be subject to traffic jams during certain seasons. The road is notable for its high trestles and series of long tunnels — including one that is approximately six miles long. The Keiji Bypass also links to Dai Ni Keihan Road (Number Two Kyoto Osaka Road) which is under construction but currently usable for at least part of its length.
Non-toll roads include Route 1 which runs between Kyoto and Osaka and Route 24 which runs between Kyoto and Nara Both of these roads are usually filled with traffic and have many stoplights. Close by is Route 307, which runs east/west along the southern edge of the city between Osaka and Shiga prefecture. This is a fairly rural road that leads through the mountains and, once away from the urban centers, makes a nice day trip.
Of special interest to motorsports enthusiasts is the Ujigawa Line (Uji River Line). This twisty road parallels the Uji River between Uji and Otsu and is a favorite for racers. The road is dangerous and often claims the lives of those who do not respect it. Due to numerous accidents, the route is closed to motorcycles for most of August, when Japanese schools are typically out of session.