Wazuka, at the very southeastern tip of Kyoto Prefecture, is an hour and half away from Kyoto by rail or by car. It’s the home of Uji tea, the finest of green teas, producing about half of all the Uji tea on the domestic market, a fact that’s surprisingly little known. Nestled in a valley along the Wazuka River, Wazuka began growing tea about 800 years ago. People living in the fourteen villages that make up Wazuka long ago began carving terraces out of the steep hillsides to plant tea bushes, perfected their skills, and have made a living from tea-growing since then.
With the coming of spring, the satoyama countryside of Wazuka begin to awaken after the long winter. First the plum blossoms come out, followed by cherry blossoms and come late April, indescribably soft yellow-green new leaves start appearing on the tea bushes. The new leaves are plucked in early May, eighty-eight days after risshun, a date in early February that marks the first day of spring according to the solar calendar. The tea farmers of Wazuka welcome visitors to participate in tea-plucking, giving them a unique chance to work side by side with the farmers to fill baskets with fresh young leaves.
Another way of getting to know the area better is to take a guided tour. Guides explain the region’s history as they lead visitors to spots of local interest and traverse the hills among the tea bushes. Taking a walking path opened along the Wazuka River, visitors can head into bamboo groves to eventually come upon a figure of the bodhisattva Maitreya carved into the rock face. Tours are also available in English, and many visitors from abroad come to enjoy what Wazuka’s attractions throughout the year.
Cafés with fine views of the tea fields
Wazukacha Café is a great place to stop by during your walk. Here you will find tea and tea-based confectionery, ideal as small gifts, and a café at the back where can sit for a while over a cup of tea. Another nearby stop is Tenku Café, built with local wood and modeled after the tearoom at Kyoto’s Kodaiji temple. There’s also a treehouse from which you can obtain a panoramic view of the tea fields of Kamatsuka, the first natural landscape to be registered as a scenic asset of Kyoto Prefecture. Advance reservation is required; contact Wazukacha Café for details (see end of article).
Another spot for taking a breather in scenic surroundings is Dandan Café, which opened in spring 2019 atop a rise with the best views of the tea fields of Ishitera. Enjoy the sweeping vista through the picture windows while having tea, lunch or green tea-themed desserts.
Mountain bike trail riding
Yubune, in the eastern part of Wazuka, is an area that remains in a more natural state. Yubune MTB Land, a complex of mountain biking trails, takes full advantage of the terrain and is slated to be the site for the World Masters Games Kansai in 2021 mountain biking competition. A mix of hilly trails, aimed at everyone from beginners to expert riders, provides fun and excitement, and there’s even a beginners’ course for first-time riders. Bicycles are available for rent, so you can take a ride during your visit if the fancy strikes. This is where you can add the spice of physical activity to your day after quietly enjoying tea in the more manicured woodlands of Wazuka.
Wazuka Revitalization Center
35 Shirasu Ohazama, Soraku-gun, Wazuka-cho, Kyoto
Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM (Open from 9 AM on Sundays and holidays)
1-1 Ishitera Higashitani, Soraku-gun, Wazuka-cho, Kyoto
Hours: 10 AM to 4 PM (to 5 PM from July to September)
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Yubune MTB Land
103 Koaza Yabuta, Oza Yubune, Soraku-gun, Wazuka-cho, Kyoto
Tel. 0774-78-3002 (Wazuka Local Promotion Center)
Hours: 9 AM to 4 PM (April–November), 9 AM to 3 PM (December–March)
Fees per trail: Ages 12 and up, ￥1,500; under 12, ￥1,000.
Bicycle rental: standard grade, ￥1,500; high-grade, ￥3,000; children’s bikes, ￥1,000.