Oarai looks out on the Pacific Ocean and has flourished as a fishing town over the years. “Aqua World”, the Ibaraki Prefectural Oarai Aquarium is famous for being Japan’s leading shark breeding facilities. The town itself is one of the leading sightseeing spots in Ibaraki. Oarai has various kinds of seafood like octopus, ankou (anglerfish) and shirasu (young sardines). This year, Oarai is one of the most appealing locales in Ibaraki. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting places in Oarai.
Oarai is one of the most well-renowned places in Ibaraki. Here, visitors can visit Aqua World, the Ibaraki Prefectural Oarai Aquarium , where there are local and exotic marine animals from every corner of the sea. Oarai Marine Tower has a 360-degree view at the top so visitors can enjoy the spectacular seaside view.
Oarai features a popular beach and is well-known for its welcoming atmosphere. Many events take place throughout the year in the shopping district, which is also an excellent place to try some of the local fare, which includes some excellent seafood.
Oarai Sun Beach is the largest beach in the North Kanto region and has become a perennial favorite for swimmers and sunbathers. Improvements were made to the beach in 1997 to make it more accessible to elderly and disabled people. Jibiki-ami (Fishing net) is a popular event which takes place from April until October. Sun Beach is surrounded by rocks, which makes it look like an attractive, natural “seawater pool”. It is also a popular surfing and fishing spot.
Aqua World, Ibaraki Prefecture’s Oarai Aquarium
Aqua World is one of the biggest aquariums in Japan and contains over 68,000 fish from 580 different species. It often tops many “best of” lists in Japan. It is famous for its various shark exhibitions, its 9 distinct marine “zones” that show the diversity of sea life in Oarai and around the world! Each water tank has a distinct look and a unique variety of sea life. This facility often hosts a variety of events to educate and delight visitors.
Oarai Marine Tower
Oarai Marine Tower is a local landmark and serves as a symbol for the town. It is 55 meters high and features a 360 degree view from the top of the tower. On a clear day, visitors can see Mt. Fuji and the peaks of Nasu Mountain from the top of the tower. This is the best place to watch the first sunrise of the year and the Oarai Fireworks Festival.
Ankou: Oarai’s Own Delicacy
The anglerfish is called “ankou” in Japanese. It is an especially ugly-looking fish, but some say that “the uglier it is, the tastier it is!” In the old days, only fishermen ate it, but it has become a gourmet favorite in Ibaraki. Almost the whole fish, minus the bones can be eaten! The meat, skin, stomach, liver, ovaries, gill covers and fins are called “the seven tools of ankou”. Ankou’s liver is called “the foie gras of the sea” based on both its appearance and taste and its skin is full of collagen, which is said to promote healthy, glowing skin. You should try ankou not only for its taste, but for your health and beauty as well.
Oarai is located along the Pacific Ocean, so there are a number of open-air hot springs with beautiful ocean views. Anyone who wants to buy hot spring water can purchase it in 40 liter increments for 10 yen apiece at stands that pump it directly from underground hot springs. Many locals enjoy these mineral-rich hot spring baths at home by diluting one part hot spring water to 5 to 10 parts regular tap water.
Iso-bushi is a particular type of song sung by Japanese sailors in the Iwai-machi part of Oarai. Iso-bushi is a recognized style of traditional folk singing in Japan. This type of singing was once heard not only on boats, but in the red-light districts of the past as a party song. Anchu Sekine, who was an attendant to Hitachiyama, a sumo wrestler from Mito (Ibaraki’s capital city) and the 19th Yokozuna (Grand Champion of Sumo) in Japan, often sang Iso-bushi songs on the sumo circuit, which made him a popular figure in sumo wrestling and one of the primary disseminators of Iso-bushi in Japan.
A Bento (boxed lunch), sold at train stations
There are many kinds of bento (boxed lunch) sold at Oarai Train Station on the Kashima Rinkai Railway. Some of the popular ones include the “Iso-bushi” bento, the “Mihama Tako-meishi” and the “Hokki-gai”, which is made from clams. Proceeds from sales of the “Hokki-gai” have gone to support places and people effected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. It is a very chewy dish, but the more you chew it, the tastier it gets! Give it a try!
Reasonably Priced Gourmet Food
Oarai is a unique place in Ibaraki. It has a variety of reasonably priced gourmet foods, including “shio-motsu-nabe” (a hotpot dish made from offal and salt) from the Asahi-do Seafood Restaurant, which won first prize in Oarai’s reasonably priced gourmet contest in 2011. The runner-up in the contest was the “jakorokke mentai cheeseburger” (a burger with dried, tiny sardines, season cod roe and cheese croquette.) Since the end of World War Two, the “mitsu dango” (sweet dumpling) has been a well-loved local favorite in Oarai. There is so much to eat in this little town!
The Shopping District
Oarai’s shopping district has a lot to offer! The Oarai Town Tourism Association created a “one coin” event that is held twice-a-day from 10 am to 13 pm every Saturday and Sunday. In this “one coin” event, shoppers can pick 5 shops from the array of available shops in the Magarimatsu Shopping District and Nagamachi Shopping District. At these shops, you can buy small, local gourmet items for only one coin (¥100)! You can enjoy a variety of things for only a few hundred yen!
Oarai Isozaki Shrine
Oarai Isozaki Shrine’s torii (gate) crosses a road, creating an intersection that has come to be known as the “Oarai Torii Shita”, which means literally “the intersection under the big torii.” After passing through this gate and walking along the coast, there is another torii that belongs to the shrine called “Kamiiso” that sits on a rock in the ocean. In the morning, the sun rises through it, making it an ideal place to view the first sunrise of the year.