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A Guide to Wazuka, Japan’s Matcha Town

2024-05-31

Matcha has risen from relative obscurity to become a global phenomenon. The semi-sweet herbal flavor of the green powder can be found in not only tea but also pastries, cookies, chocolates, cheesecake, and other confections. It can even be used to flavor savory foods — from popcorn and oatmeal to sushi — or give an antioxidant boost to various health and beauty products.

Whether you’re a tea newbie or a hardcore matcha fan, consider traveling to Kyoto Prefecture’s Wazuka for a deep dive into this quintessential Japanese ingredient. You can enjoy splendid views of bright green fields while learning about matcha’s history and culture, all the while basking in Japan’s countryside’s tranquility.

 

1. How to get to Wazuka

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Wazuka is a town in southern Kyoto Prefecture with just a few thousand people, southeast of Kyoto City.

From Kyoto Station, you can reach Wazuka by public transit in around an hour and a half. Make your way to Kizu Station, then to Kamo Station, and then take a bus to reach Wazuka. The journey takes roughly the same amount of time by car. To get to Kyoto Station from Tokyo, there are dozens of daily departures from Tokyo on the Shinkansen.

Alternatively, the ancient capital of Nara is another convenient starting point for visiting Wazuka. From Nara Station, take the train to Kamo Station and then a bus, making it a mere 40 minutes to reach Wazuka.

Osaka is also a viable launchpad. The Osaka Loop Line provides service to Kamo Station, as above, where you can transfer to the bus. About an hour and a half after departing from the city, you'll find yourself amid the tea fields of Wazuka.

 

2. Wazuka and tea

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Around 300 tea plantations operate in the town of Wazuka. The area's climate has long been beneficial for tea leaf cultivation, and this industry has a history of more than 800 years stretching all the way back to the Kamakura period (1185–1333). The Wazuka River, which runs through the heart of town, is among the natural features that have made the town into a veritable "teatopia".

Wazuka produces half of Kyoto Prefecture's gross output of Uji tea, a category that includes matcha. The town offers beautiful natural scenery, striking cultural assets, delicious food and drink, and friendly residents to guide your explorations.

You'll also understand immediately upon visiting why Wazuka was designated both a Scenic Property of Kyoto and a Japan Heritage site. The richness of its cultural traditions and stunning landscapes entwines in one unforgettable destination.

 

3. Notable attractions

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Start your trip to Wazuka by visiting the sprawling tea plantations. Rental bicycles are available at the tourist information center and other establishments. Verdant terraces of tea leaves surround the town and will fill you with awe.

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There are several notable cultural sites within Wazuka, such as the Imperial Tomb of Prince Asaka. Asaka was the short-lived son of Emperor Shomu in the eighth century. After passing away at the tender age of 17, the prince was buried in the town now known as Wazuka because he was purportedly fond of this area at the crossroads of regional sites of power in his day.

The Buddhist temple Shoho-ji was also established to remember the prince. The monk Gyoki opened the temple in 774 to console the prince’s spirit. The temple is known for its striking red maple leaves in autumn and excellent views of nearby Mount Kamatsuka.

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For those who want to explore local spirituality further, Wazuka Tenman-gu Shrine and Jubu-san Kontai-ji Temple are other places to peer into Wazuka’s storied lineage, which stretches back more than a millennium.

Wazuka Tenman-gu Shrine was founded in 983 but rebuilt during the Muromachi period (1336–1573) and thus retains the architectural style of that later period. The shrine is the site of a local festival in October, during which residents gather and pray for a bountiful harvest — a matter not to be taken lightly by a town where so many livelihoods hinge on tea production.

Jubu-san Kontai-ji Temple, on the other hand, is one of the oldest of Wazuka’s places of worship. It dates back to 675 and is believed to have been founded by the famed ascetic En-no-Ozuno. The temple provides convenient access to hiking courses that showcase the natural landscapes of Wazuka.

 

4. Matcha experiences

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There’s no shortage of establishments in Wazuka for tea and tea-based products, of course. d:matcha Kyoto is a good place to dip your toe into the water. They offer matcha tea farm tours and tea tastings and even run a bed and breakfast for those who want to immerse themselves in rural serenity.

Guided experiences in matcha-making are also offered by some of the other local establishments. You can enjoy whisking your own fresh matcha tea or even make matcha-based art through the local farmhouses in Wazuka.

For tea-based souvenirs and local products, make sure to visit Wazukacha Cafe. You can purchase items such as single-origin tea, matcha-infused chocolate, and other delightful goodies.

If you want to make a lasting impact on the community, d:matcha also has a program where you can “adopt” a matcha tea tree seedling by making a donation. Not only will you be supporting this important local industry, but you’ll receive a number of teas for your contribution and also have an ema, or votive plaque, painted in your honor. The ema will be hung at Hakusan-jinja Shrine near the tea fields, creating a long-lasting link between you and the town of Wazuka.

 

5. Where to stay

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Wazuka offers several farm stay experiences, during which you can lodge with local residents and get to know the local tea culture even more intimately. Given the town's size, however, these accommodations are very limited.

As noted above, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka are all good cities from which to make a day trip to Wazuka. Kyoto City is an historic city filled with temples, shrines, and other sites of classical Japanese beauty and is on practically everybody’s bucket list.

Nara City has cultural properties that are just as picturesque and unique charms like the spotted sika deer that roam through town. The transit time to Wazuka is much shorter, taking about half as long as coming from Kyoto or Osaka.

Osaka is the best bet for those who want a fix on Japan’s exciting urban lifestyles. This port city is known for its thriving street food scene, sports culture, and vivacious local residents.

 

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