If you are looking for an escape from Tokyo, then why not visit Oarai in Ibaraki prefecture? With plenty of attractions, Oarai is a great place to spend a day. Whether you love the beach with all its activities, enjoy going to an aquarium, or are in the mood for seafood, Orai should be on your list to visit.
I recently spent a day in Oarai and these are some great things I found on my trip, there really is something to do for anyone.
One of the many inhabitants of Oarai’s Aqua World
As with many small towns in Japan, the best way to explore them, in my opinion, is by bicycle. The reason why is because the distances often are just a little too far to walk, therefore cycling is the perfect way to get around. In Oarai the bicycle rental shop at “Umimachi Terrace” is conveniently located just beside the train station and inside the small tourist information. So as you are picking up your bicycle you can also get a map of the sights at the same time.
Bicycle rental at Umimachi Terrace
Good to know is that they have electric bicycles, making it extra easy to get around, and if you are a fan of Anime, they also have a fun “Garu Pan” (short for Girls and Panzer) stamp rally, that lets you collect stamps at various spots dotted around town while you explore Oarai.
Girls and Panzer stamp rally
Aqua World is a great aquarium filled with plenty to see including 850 different species and some 68,000 fish. But the main attraction is the giant shark tank along with many exhibits that teach you about the live of sharks. It is extremely educational, but also made fun!
Of course, there are other things to explore at Aqua World, including a mesmerizing jellyfish tank that changes colors every few minutes. Plus there are a few bits of entertainment scheduled at regular intervals, such as the feeding of the penguins or the dolphin show, which for many visitors are highlights. Just be prepared to queue for it, however, the venue is actually very spacious, so don’t worry if you are not at the front of the line.
Plenty to see and do at Aqua World
Located between Aqua World and downtown is Oarai’s Isosaki Shrine. It features 3 Torii gates, however the most famous is “Kamiiso No Torii”. What makes it so special is its location. Situated on a cliff not too far from the seashore, which makes it a popular spot with photographers and especially beautiful during sunset and sunrise.
It is also known as a so-called power spot with many locals with coming here to recharge and just enjoy the view.
The Kamiiso No Torii is a popular photo spot
Reflection beach is a great spot for photographers as the shallow shore turns into an almost perfect mirror every morning and every evening.
Unfortunately, the weather was not great when I visited, so my advice to get the best photos is to come here on either a day with a clear sky or when you have clouds that look like fluffy, white cotton balls as the reflection will be lovely.
Some people also bring props such as a picture frame or other items, so you can really be as creative as you like to get that perfect shot!
The shallow water at Sun Beach is also known as Reflection Beach
If you love the ocean then you will have an amazing time strolling along the coast, every so often dipping your feet into the ocean.
Spanning from the north of Oarai, where Aqua World is located to the very south, where you would find Sun Beach, you will find much variety. While at Aquaworld you can enjoy a paved promenade, near Kamiiso Torii you can walk along the pebbled seashore and climb over small cliffs, or walk along sandy beaches in the south.
Oarai is also a great place to go surfing, so why not hit up Sun Beach as you are here?
Oarai has great beaches and is popular for surfing
A fun place to learn more about Mentaiko, which is marinated pollock roe and a Japanese delicacy is Mentaiko Park. Check out the small museum and watch the factory workers prepare it as a part of the tour and of course sample and pick up a box on the way out.
I also recommend trying the Mentaiko soft serve, a vanilla-based ice cream mixed with Mentaiko and served with a Shrimp crisp on the side. Now, to be honest, you will likely either love or hate it, as it definitely feels more like an acquired taste.
Mentaiko flavoured ice cream
Another great spot to visit as you are in town is the local sake brewery. “Tsukinoi” is a family business and has been making Japanese sake for more than 150 years. It is located in the heart of Oarai and features a small brewery shop, where you can buy their products, including glassware, cosmetics, and of course their sake.
They are well known for their Toji, Ishikawa-san, who is famous in the sake industry for his contribution and ideology of making sake, as well as for their sake, especially their brand “Hikoichi”.
They are also offering brewery tours, however, have stopped them for the time being due to the pandemic. So if you would like to visit them and see the brewery make sure to call in advance.
Tsukinoi Sake Brewery shop
Of course, no trip to Oarai would be complete without visiting one of the many seafood restaurants and shops. With plenty of options, I promise you, you will definitely not leave Oarai hungry!
If you are visiting Aqua World, you can pick your favorite dish at the food court, offering a variety of dishes from different vendors with a nice view over the ocean.
Alternatively, if you are downtown, visit the small seafood village, where you can eat anything from fresh sashimi and sushi, to rice bowls topped with all the goodness of the sea, or pick your favorite pieces of fish and seafood to grill yourself at a BBQ style restaurant. There are so many choices you may want to come to Oarai more than once just for the food.
Amazing food form different restaurants in Oarai
If you want to get out of the city and visit a hidden seaside gem than Oarai is the perfect daytrip for you. Not as touristy as other places, here you can enjoy a more local Japan and what is better than to spend a day by the sea?
I definitely enjoyed breathing in some fresh salty air, gazing over the calming waves crushing in, and filling my stomach with great seafood and a little bit of sake. So if you do have some time off and feel like you want to get away for a day, make sure to visit Oarai!
Sake Brewery in Mashiko
Sake Brewery in Nasu-Karasuyama
Sake Breweries in Nikko
I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.
To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.
Contributor: Cindy Bissig
Cindy is a writer and photographer living and documenting her Japan experience. As a Digital Nomad, she travels all around Japan to discover its beauty and share what she finds on her YouTube channel, as well as through her articles and photographs. She is particularly passionate about local culture, food and sake. Tune into her Podcast “Sake Unplugged” to learn more about it. Her goal is to show you an authentic Japan to make sure you have the best possible experience when you visit!
youtube: Let’s Travel and Eat