Chronicling Uji, home of Hibike! Euphonium

Living in Kyoto for a year from 2017 to 2018, I had the privilege of being just a short train ride away from neighboring Uji City, setting of the Hibike! Euphonium (English title Sound! Euphonium) anime, and actually of the original novels as well. I visited the city thrice during the year, my itinerary slightly different each time.

It’s admittedly been a long time since these visits now. However, I figured it’s better to document my travels now than to never do it, especially considering how few English-language pilgrimage reports there are in general. It also gives me a chance to refresh my own memories and serves as a record of what the locations were like at that particular time.

To give this report some travel flavor, I shall detail each visit separately, focusing on the new things and on what changed since the last visit, rather than trying to piece together material from all visits for a plausible pilgrimage route you could see everything on. There are maps for that anyway. Note that my pilgrimages were just hobbyist level. I simply went to see the places and took pictures, and I only sometimes tried to capture the exact angles seen in the anime.

City center, a memorable cake shop and the mountain trail: December 2017

On my first visit, I had rather limited time, having some business to take care of both in the morning and in the evening. I took the Keihan Uji Line train, strongly associated with Eupho and shown numerous times in the series, to Keihan Uji Station.

For context, Keihan is a train company running lines that connect Kyoto with Uji and Osaka, with numerous stops all the way through. As such, many people in Uji use Keihan’s local trains to get from one place in the city to another. Japan’s semi-national railway corporation, JR, likewise has railways in Uji, and there are actually two Uji Stations: JR Uji Station and Keihan Uji Station. Keihan’s transit system appears significantly more in Eupho than JR’s, and there have been many promotional partnerships between the company and the show.

Anyway, my pilgrimage started with me descending the stairs from the platfrom at Keihan’s Uji Station. In Eupho, this station appears to be the home station used by Kumiko and Reina.

I like water in cities. Being on the coast or having major lakes or rivers gives character to a location, and Uji is commanded by the Uji River that runs in the city center. Keihan Uji Station is located by the river, and most of the city center including the JR Uji Station and Uji’s tourist magnet, the temple Byōdōin, are on the other. Bridges crossing the river are thus memorable both for Eupho fans and anyone who’s visited the city.

A particularly memorable scene featuring the main bridge, which is simply called the Uji Bridge thus continuing the theme, is the legendary “I want to get better!” scene from episode 12 of the first season. There’s a slab marking the Uji River next to the bridge, and Kumiko runs past it and onto the bridge, where she shouts out her frustrations.

It was my first proper…ish pilgrimage, and I hadn’t prepared any map for myself, only read Michael Vito’s pilgrimage report and filed some ideas into my memory… but only my memory. Thus, I decided to concentrate on places that were easy enough, and headed for JR Uji Station that had also appeared in the anime.

Uji is famous for its matcha (a type of green tea), and uses its reputation in many ways. You can get any kind of food or snacks in matcha flavor there. Another example is that the post box in front of the station is in the shape of a matcha vase.

Walking around the streets nearby, taking in the scenery, I walked past a little shop that had some Hibike! Euphonium pilgrimage maps published by the city’s tourism department. Now I had some clues as to what else I could look for.

I decided to head for number 10, the Uji City Cultural Hall (宇治文化センター), which was a bit of a way off from other anime locations. One of the reasons was that I could cover it now and focus on the ones closer together when I returned to Uji with ample time.

The Uji City Cultural Hall notably has a concert hall, and it appeared in episode 11 of the first season, when the solo audition between Reina and Kaori was held there.

Approaching the cultural center.

On this early afternoon on a weekday, the Cultural Hall was quiet, with nothing going on.

Putting in some Uji cityscape for good measure.

While at the Cultural Hall, I put together a simple plan for the rest of the day, namely that I’d have a snack and then visit the two locations I had on my “must see” list before I had to head back up to Kyoto. These were the aforementioned temple, Byōdōin, and the mountain Daikichiyama that Kumiko and Reina climbed in episode 8 of the first season. As such, I headed towards Byōdōin.

On the way there, a certain establishment caught my eye: a little cake shop with its windows filled by Eupho posters and a tobidashi cutout of Kumiko by the entrance.

I was hungry, so I first got a sandwich at a supermarket on the same street, but after that I had to visit this shop.

The shop’s name is Choco de Ninmari. The owner had decorated the inside, too, with Eupho memorabilia, and it had become a minor meeting spot for Eupho fans local and visiting. Fanart lined the walls, and there was a guestbook, too.

The owner was curious when I entered the shop as an obvious foreigner, and she was really nice. She asked me whether I liked Eupho, to which the answer was obvious, and who my favorite character was. I said “I think Kumiko,” and she said Kumiko’s her favorite too. I tried one of their cakes, and it was really good. While I was at the store, another Eupho fan came in and sat at the same table, which was really the only one they had; the shop was really tiny. The other guy was a crossplayer, and showed me some pictures of him in the Kitauji girls’ uniform.

When I left the shop, the owner took a photo with me, and she also wanted to take a photo of me outside with the tobidashi Kumiko cutout and put it on the shop’s Twitter account. I said yes.

As nice as this tiny shop and its owner were, Choco de Ninmari sadly closed down the very next month, with a notice of closure “until further notice” posted on Twitter on 21 January, 2018. I definitely would’ve dropped by again on subsequent visits to Uji if possible, and kept checking the Twitter page to maybe see a notice of the shop reopening, but this never happened. The aforementioned photo of me with tobidashi Kumiko never made it onto the Twitter page either, in the end.

After Choco de Ninmari, it was time for my visit to Byōdōin, which I’ll leave out of this report since it isn’t anime-related. Suffice to say, however, that this temple whose likeness also features on the 10-yen coin is a really pretty one. It’s well worth seeing as well if you’re going to Uji, or, since the train ride isn’t too long, Kyoto for that matter.

It was getting late after Byōdōin, but I figured I could still make Daikichiyama if I hurried to the start of the mountain trail.

Of course, most impressive was the observation platform up on the mountain. It was also where Reina and Kumiko were heading.

After getting my pictures, I hurried to Keihan Uji Station to catch a train back to Kyoto, taking a last low-quality photo of the scenery around the station and Uji Bridge on the way.

With ample time: February 2018

In February 2018, I returned to Uji with a less hectic schedule and armed with a custom Google Maps map put together by Japanese fans. I had of course already covered some places on the December visit, which would also relax any potential time pressures.

My route was fairly linear, approaching central Uji from the north (Kyoto, where I was coming from, is to the north of Uji). I started the day by taking the Keihan Uji Line down to Kowata Station, in the northern parts of Uji and far from the city center. This is where Kyoto Animation’s main office, Studio 2 and the Kyoani & Do Shop are located. (I never saw Studio 1. That’s the one that was in the news…)

Around here is a McDonald’s that appears in Eupho as “F-Burger,” and is apparently visited frequently by Kyoani staff.

Done with Kowata/Kohata, I walked south to the next stop on the Keihan line, Obaku. In Eupho, Obaku Station is used by Hazuki.

I stopped by Nakaji Bakery, right by the station.

The facade of the bakery was quite different to the anime, but this was a pilgrimage destination for more senses than only your eyes. Inside, the bakery sells the “Frank Danish” (フランクデニッシュ), a curious pasty that is a wiener sausage (called “Frankfurt,” or “Frank” for short, in Japan) on a stick, surrounded by a crust flavored with spices and ketchup. This pasty appears in episode 9 of the first season, with Hazuki making sure to note on its deliciousness.

A counter inside Nakaji Bakery. Frank Danishes are on the far left, but fanart and other Eupho memorabilia have taken over the wall behind all the other products as well.

As you can see on the photo, a single Frank Danish cost only ¥173 including tax (approximately 1.40 EUR or 1.60 USD). I followed the example of Hazuki in the show and got myself one, plus another bread as a snack for later on.

Hazuki eating the Danish, to drive the point home. Screenshot from S1E09.

Eating something that you’re familiar with from an anime is pretty fun and lets you step further into the world of the show, of course. On the other hand, my personal experience with the Frank Danish was that it was somewhat difficult to eat, since the crust is mostly hollow with the sausage in the middle, only attached to the stick at the top and the sausage at the bottom. Once I bit off the top, the bottom broke off too, and the crust started sliding down.

Nakaji Bakery is at the northern end of the station. At the southern end, there is a piece of cityscape that appeared in the second season’s opening animation.

Moving further, a couple hundred meters (a quarter mile) south is Shinchaya Station’s train crossing, which Kumiko and Reina’s train passed in episode 1 of the second season.

I continued south by foot along the Keihan line’s route, and after a short walk, there was another piece of scenery that had made a brief appearance.

I was nearing the city center, and changed my course to go straight west to Uji River, to a specific water pipe crossing the river and not far from Uji Bridge anymore.

In episode 9 of the second season, Kumiko and Asuka go sit down under the water pipe after meeting up at Asuka’s home. Asuka’s euphonium sounds while we get a montage of nearby scenery. A shot that probably represents this scene but doesn’t appear in episode 9 itself appears in the opening, too. Closest I could get was the shot above, since entrance to the lower path was blocked.

There’s a little Buddhist shrine near the location, seen in the episode when Kumiko and Asuka are walking to the water pipe.

Continuing south, this shot appears in the montage while Asuka is playing.

Just a bit further down the road, and we get to Keihan Uji Station. I had a photo from the front further up, but it was shown from the side in episode 10 of the second season, so I made sure to also take a picture of that this time.

Thus we get back to Uji Bridge.

I didn’t cross the bridge, however, I stayed on the northern/eastern side of the river and walked the riverside streets to Uji Shrine.

Main hall of Uji Shrine.

Further up the hillside path is Ujigami Shrine, considered Japan’s oldest shrine. Uji Shrine and Ujigami Shrine used to be two parts of the same shrine, but are now officially separate. They’re some of the many tourist draws Uji has besides Hibike! Euphonium.

The mountain trail up to Daikichiyama starts behind Ujigami Shrine.

I just had to go up the mountain trail again, since the vantage point up on the mountain is one of my favorite Eupho locations in Uji. It was already detailed above, but here are a few more pictures.

Funny story, when going up the mountain, I saw a man ahead of me carrying a plastic bag from the Kyoani & Do Shop. I figured that someone who was at the shop and is climbing up a mountain known from Eupho certainly has to be another pilgrim. I approached him with the line (in Japanese, of course) “Hi, you’re a Eupho fan, without doubt?” Unsurprisingly, he was, so we walked up the mountain together, talking about other Kyoani shows as well. He was from Hiroshima Prefecture and had come visit Uji for Eupho and Kyoto for K-On on the same trip.

Up at the observation platform, he asked whether I’d been to Kumiko’s bench on my previous visit to Uji. “Kumiko’s bench” is a specific riverside bench that Kumiko has seemingly taken a liking to, returning there many times in the show. It’s one of the more important “holy sites” in Uji. I said that I hadn’t been but was planning to go there after this, and he told me that unfortunately, there’s construction work going on around there. I wouldn’t get a good view this visit either.

We descended the mountain together, and then separated. I headed for the bench nonetheless. It was on the other side of Uji Bridge. Right at the end of the bridge, there was this clock from the opening, too.

I could clearly see the construction work going on on my way to Kumiko’s bench, and sure enough, the location wasn’t that picturesque at the moment.

I continued along the river in the direction of the prominent red Kisen Bridge. On the way there, there was this crossing where Kumiko’s apartment complex is… or is supposed to be. The building itself has been lifted from another location, I hear.

Then, Kisen Bridge. Granted, the construction work was a bit of an issue.

On the “bench side,” or Byōdōin side, of the bridge is the Uji City Tourism Center. I dropped by, since you can often find anime memorabilia in the tourism offices of the, well, “holy” cities. And sure enough, besides the normal tourism brochures and free green tea, there were panels, posters and a guestbook. I of course wrote down a message as well.

After having some complementary green tea, I headed for the last spot of this main pilgrimage: Agata Shrine, site of the Agata Festival which is a major event in Uji and also featured in the anime in episode 8 of the first season.

The main hall of Agata Shrine.

After visiting the shrine, I headed back to the Keihan Station and took the train up to Kyoto, satisfied with what I’d accomplished in the day.

Keihan collaboration campaign – mostly: August 2018

I went to Uji a final time in August 2018, not too long before I’d leave Japan. This time, I was with a friend who wanted to go to Uji, but hadn’t seen Eupho. He had no particular interest in it either, but was willing to accommodate small detours. Thus, I didn’t do that much Eupho-related, but managed to snap pictures with new collaboration panels and at some key locations.

Keihan, the railway operator, was running a special campaign where they had placed cardboard panels with Eupho characters’ likenesses around town. You could scan QR codes on these panels on a pilgrimage app called Butai Meguri (舞台めぐり) to unlock characters you could then superimpose on photos. This way, you could place the 2D characters into the 3D world at least in pictures. A fun feature, even if nothing too revolutionary.

Keihan’s campaign also included a day ticket for the Keihan Uji Line, something that probably wasn’t advantageous to me in the end. However, the ticket had a Eupho print and you got a mini-size clear file to go with it, so of course I bought it.

The first panel was in Chushojima Station. There, the Keihan Line split into the Keihan Main Line heading to Osaka and the Keihan Uji Line heading to Uji.
Another panel on the Omotesando street leading to Byodoin. It says: “Welcome! to the stage of the story, Uji City”

Of course, the one place I absolutely wanted to go to again was Kumiko’s bench, seeing as the construction work was finally finished.

However, the construction work had not been about a subtle facelift, but there were… additions to the pumping station next to the bench. Pipes jutting out of the station were covered in white concrete. I’m not an engineer, so I can’t say whether this was necessary, perhaps it was, but it’s for certain that the scenery has changed and the view we saw in the anime has been lost. I lamented not going to see the bench back in December, before the construction work started. Well… at least there are pictures online.

Leaving the bench behind, I went and took a better photo of the nearby Kisen Bridge.

After this, we visited the temple Kōshō-ji, which I read about online but which has no relation to Eupho. It’s a really pretty place, which I do recommend visiting on the side.

After Kōshō-ji, it was time for a final trek up Daikichiyama.

After descending, we headed to Keihan Uji Station to take the train back to Kyoto. At the station, some new panels could be found.

Even the trains had Eupho imagery as part of the collaboration campaign.

This concluded my so far final visit to Uji. I don’t know when I can go back to Japan, but I think not visiting Kyoto once I do is rather unrealistic. And if in Kyoto, maybe I could return to Uji as well. It’s been a while, so I’d certainly like to.

Resources

If you’re thinking of going to Uji yourself, here are some further resources:

Some notable Eupho locations I didn’t go to:

  • Hatoyama (羽戸山) park to the south of Obaku Station. Appears in the show several times and is easily distinguishable.
  • The elephant in the room: the model for the school, in reality the Todoh High School (莵道高校). Further up from Hatoyama park and thus convenient to visit at the same time. The thing with schools is just that they are in use, and taking photos with students in the frame is a big no-no in Japan. For this reason, it might be best to go on a weekend for example. The days I was visiting all happened to be weekdays.

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