Ibaraki: Top 7 Spots in the Oarai, a Town by the Ocean

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Ibaraki: Top 7 Spots in the Oarai, a Town by the Ocean

Oarai Town is located in Ibaraki Prefecture's central region. Close by is the prefectural capital of Mito City, Hitachi Seaside Park and other attractions, so it is a recommended destination when traveling in central Ibaraki.

Oarai Town sits along the Pacific Ocean coastline and offers many highlights associated with the sea. In this article we introduce Oarai Town and seven popular spots in the local area.

Close to Hitachi Seaside Park! Highlight-Filled Oarai

Mention Ibaraki and many will think of Hitachi Seaside Park. Located in Hitachinaka City, this place is famous for its gentle hills covered with Nemophila flowers and Kochia bushes.

However, Oarai Town, which is located nearby, is also a highly attractive tourist destination.

In Oarai Town―which faces the Pacific Ocean―and the surrounding area, there are many places where you can enjoy the blessings of the sea in a myriad of ways.

For example, seafood is in abundance, so there are many spots that seafood lovers won’t want to miss out on. There are also places ideal for enjoying ocean scenery, an aquarium for looking at all the marine life, and hotels and beaches on the coastline. All it makes Oarai an ideal destination for a trip with an ocean theme.

We introduce seven ocean-related attractions in the Oarai Town area that are garnering plenty of attention!

1. Nakaminato Fish Market

The Nakaminato Fish Market is famous even among all the fish markets in the greater Tokyo area. Every year it’s crowded with more than one million visitors. A lot of compact shops line the market path, so you can quickly get around and enjoy the lively atmosphere of a bustling Japanese market.

Morita Suisan’s shop

This historic fish market has been in business since the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and sits right in front of the fishing port. The market sells a wide variety of fish and seafood. This includes locally caught flounder, whitebait, and abalone, as well as fresh shrimp, shellfish, and crab delivered from other fishing ports. The market is fully stocked with ingredients that you can take home and prepare your own meal with. Customers can easily purchase fresh seafood at very reasonable prices here. There is also a big selection of products that make great souvenirs, such as shrimp and crab crackers with a long shelf life, or crab dusted with sugar.

There are also food stalls with fresh seafood. The sweet and delicious raw oysters are especially recommended. You can drizzle some soy sauce or lemon juice on top and eat them right on the spot. For those who don’t care for raw seafood, we suggest trying the popular crab miso (a miso-like paste that is found in the crab’s intestinal area) or kushiyaki skewers, which are both also popular with international visitors.

Additionally, there are several eating establishments that serve fresh seafood dishes, allowing you to enjoy a substantial meal. Not only can you have fresh seafood rice bowls (kaisen don) and sashimi, but you can also enjoy them at reasonable prices found only at a market. The conveyor belt sushi with their large toppings are extremely popular.

Although the Nakaminato Fish Market is located in Hitachinaka City, it is within only five minutes drive from one of Oarai Town’s main sightseeing spots, Aquaworld Oarai Aquarium. It’s easily accessible, so drop here for a stroll.

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Nakaminato Fish Market

Nakaminato Fish Market

Popular among locals and visitors alike, this fish market is known for its affordable prices and restaurants serving up local seafood. Take in the market scenes before sitting down at one of the market’s restaurants. Dining options include conveyor-belt sushi, sashimi, sea urchin, and seafood rice bowls. Many restaurants can also be reserved for group bookings.
The fish market is accessible by a short drive or a 15-minute walk from Aqua World Oarai aquarium. It is also a short train ride from Hitachi Seaside Park, making it an ideal sightseeing spot in central Ibaraki.

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2. Mentai Park

In recent years, mentaiko―made with marinated pollock roe―has become popular even overseas. Food manufacturer, Kanefuku, currently manages a mentaiko theme park called Mentai Park.

Visitors here can learn more about mentaiko, sample foods using mentaiko, and buy various souvenirs that contain mentaiko that was freshly made in the factory on the premises.

Mentai Park is divided into three main zones. One of these zones features a 100-meter-long observation area. Here, in addition to getting a close up look at the production process through the factory’s glass window, visitors can also see various mentaiko-related displays. At the electronic display board, you can enjoy activities including a “Find the Difference Game” with a mentaiko theme (the display board is in Japanese only)!

At the food corner, visitors can enjoy mentaiko cuisine including Oni-mori! Mentai Donburi, Mentai Onigiri, and Mentai Butaman*. Our top recommendation here is the highly unusual Mentai Soft Ice Cream! With just the right amount of sweetness and slightly tart, this creamy treat is simply delicious!

*Donburi is a rice bowl with meat or seafood topping, onigiri is a rice ball filled with meat, seafood, or other ingredients, and a butaman is a steamed pork bun with other additional ingredients.

At the counter, there are a variety of items for sale such as mackerel mentai, mentai sausage, mentai shumai dumplings―everything from just prepared fresh and frozen foods all the way to non-perishable goods! Many of these make great souvenirs including mentaiko-filled items like mayonaisse, dressings, furikake*, and rayu (sesame oil with chili peppers).

*Furikake is a flavorful topping consisting of dried seaweed, salt, and other ingredients that’s sprinkled on top of steamed rice.

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Kanefuku Mentai Park Oarai

Kanefuku Mentai Park Oarai

The Kanefuku Mentai Park Oarai is a facility that includes a mentaiko factory, a factory direct sales store, a mentaiko gallery, and a cafe.
""Mentai"" refers to spicy cod roe, a popular food in Japan used as a topping for pasta, in mayonnaise, onigiri (rice balls), and more.
At Mentai Park, you can tour the factory to see the production process of mentaiko, taste freshly made mentaiko at the sampling corner, and enjoy mentaiko gourmet items such as mentaiko onigiri and mentaiko soft serve ice cream at the cafe. Additionally, at the direct sales store, you can purchase freshly made mentaiko, products made with mentaiko, and a large Tarapiyo stuffed toy, the mascot of mentaiko.

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3. Aquaworld Oarai Aquarium

Picture courtesy of Aquaworld Oarai Aquarium

Aquaworld Oarai Aquarium is a top-class aquarium in Japan. Especially, it is known for featuring more than 50 species of sharks―Japan’s largest collection.

Picture courtesy of Aquaworld Oarai Aquarium

The aquarium is divided into eight different zones. For example, the Eternal Sea Zone has powerful sharks, sunfish leisurely swimming around, and many other species of marine life. The Nagomi Sea Zone is home to cute creatures such as crested puffins and seals. In total, the aquarium has 60 water tanks housing some 68,000 aquatic creatures of 580 different species.

One of the highlights here is the “Great Sea Tank of Encounters,” which stretches from the second floor all the way to the third floor. This large water tank recreates Ibaraki’s ocean, featuring more than 25,000 creatures and 80 different species.

Picture courtesy of Aquaworld Oarai Aquarium

Also, many interesting events are held at Aquaworld Oarai Aquarium. One event we recommend is NIGHT AQUAWORLD, held every Saturday night starting at 18:00 (Ticket purchases required. Some weeks the event is not held).

During this event, the aquarium takes on a quiet and calm atmosphere with a limited number of guests. Attendees can observe marine creatures in their evening habitat, and also enjoy special live performances and a food menu that’s only available at this night event.

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Aquaworld Ibaraki Prefectural Oarai Aquarium

Aquaworld Ibaraki Prefectural Oarai Aquarium

This world-class aquarium is home to over 580 species of marine life, including penguins, dolphins, sharks, sunfish, and sea lions. In fact, Aquaworld houses the largest number of shark species in Japan and is renowned for its successful shark breeding program.
The dolphin and sea lion shows are the main attraction for many visitors to the aquarium. But don’t forget to set time aside for the penguin feeding or watching the shark tank getting cleaned! With ​so much to see, it’s easy to spend a whole day at the aquarium. There are plenty of food and drink options available inside to keep you going while you explore.

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4. Oarai Isosaki Shrine

Oarai Isosaki Shrine was first built in 856 and is the oldest shrine in Oarai Town. Over the years many historical figures have visited the shrine, including the famous local feudal lord from the Edo Period (1603-1868), Tokugawa Mitsukuni.

The god of national prosperity and medicine is the deity that is enshrined here. The shrine is often visited by people who pray for a safe delivery and for the healthy growth of their children.

It is located at the top of a 100-step staircase. The stairs are surrounded by beautiful trees and greenery, and once at the top you can look out over the sea.

The most famous image of Oarai Isosaki Shrine is the spectacular view of a torii gate standing on a rock in the sea.

This Kamiiso-no-Torii is located right near the torii gate at the shrine’s entrance. It looks especially impressive standing in the glow of the morning sun. Large numbers of people visit here in the early morning and wait for the rising sun with cameras in hand.

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Oarai Isosaki Shrine

Oarai Isosaki Shrine

This shrine was founded in 856 when two deities are said to have descended upon the coast of Oarai. The two enshrined at Oarai Isosaki Shrine are Daikoku-sama, the god of nation-building and national prosperity, and Sukunahikona-no-Mikoto, the god of medicine.
Oarai Isosaki Shrine is associated with the nearby Kamiiso-no-Torii, a sacred gate where the gods are said to have descended earth. This shrine gate stands dramatically on rocks in the Pacific Ocean and attracts photographers worldwide. On New Year's Day, the sun rises directly between the pillars of the shrine gate.
This shrine is also famous among fans of the anime series "Girls und Panzer," which is set in the town of Oarai and uses real-life locations. Many prayer plaques at the shrine feature illustrations of the characters from the anime drawn by visiting fans.

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5. Oarai Yamaguchi-ro

Oarai Yamaguchi-ro is a traditional ryotei ryokan (an inn that also serves as a ryotei, a high-class restaurant). It’s located in a pine forest overlooking the sea, and offers impressive scenery.

Yamaguchi-ro has four locations in Ibaraki, including the main restaurant of kaiseki cuisine in Mito City (a traditional Japanese course menu).

On the other hand, at Oarai Yamaguchi-ro, guests can enjoy fresh seafood cooked on a teppan grill.

The most popular menu item here is Ushio-yaki course, a carefully selected seasonal bounty from the sea and mountains.

Most of the food products are high-class ingredients from Ibaraki Prefecture. These include Ise shrimp, clams, and winter anglerfish. Ibaraki’s top-quality salmon, which was once presented to Japan’s emperor, can be eaten throughout the year at Oarai Yamaguchi-ro. Hitachi Wagyu Beef―Ibaraki’s famous wagyu brand―is also on the menu here.

The head chef is highly trained in preparing traditional Japanese cuisine (washoku). Special seasonings are used to bring out the best flavor of high-quality ingredients, which are grilled right in front of you by the dedicated and attentive staff.

In addition to Ushio-yaki, Oarai Yamaguchi-ro offers other course menus such as O-Sashimi Kaiseki, in which diners can enjoy a sashimi meal using a variety of fresh seafood. Then Hamaguri Nabe Kaiseki features Ibaraki’s famous fleshy clams and locally grown vegetables.

If you have plans to go to Oarai Yamaguchi-ro, please be sure to make advance reservations. It has official pages in English and traditional Chinese.

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Oarai Yamaguchi-ro

Oarai Yamaguchi-ro

Yamaguchi-ro Hotel is located in the small seaside town of Oarai, a 30-minute drive from Mito City. This popular tourist destination is where visitors can head to Aqua World Oarai Aquarium and Oarai Sunbeach.
Pine trees surround the hotel so guests can gaze out at the Pacific Ocean while enjoying the sea breeze and the scent of fresh pine.
Dining options include "ushio-yaki," grilled fresh seafood, shellfish, Hitachi Wagyu beef, and kaiseki, a traditional Japanese course meal featuring a range of seafood dishes. During the winter months (mid-November to late March), the local specialty of anglerfish hotpot is also available. Non-staying guests are welcome to dine at Yamaguchi-ro.
The accommodation is also a top pick among golfers due to its excellent location, just a three-minute walk from the prestigious Oarai Golf Club.

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6. Oarai Kakigoya

Oarai Kakigoya is a restaurant managed by Iiokaya Suisan, a long-established fisheries company that opened for business way back in 1896. So the seafood that is served here comes with a guarantee of freshness.

Oarai Kakigoya is a self-service kind of operation. Customers pick ingredients (clams, fish and other seafood), put them on a tray and carry them back to their table where they grill everything by themselves. The price is marked for each seafood item, so calculating the bill is also easy.

There’s a huge variety of seafood including salmon, oysters, crab miso, plump and sweet greeneye fish, and seasonal catches. It feels like every conceivable seafood item is available here. You can also steam oysters and scallops or order a fresh seafood rice bowl (kaisen don). There’s also a drink bar with free refills.

7. Satoumitei Kinparo Hontei

Picture courtesy of Satoumitei Kinparo Hontei

For travelers looking for a sophisticated ryokan that’s equipped with a relaxing mineral spring baths offering great ocean views, how about Satoumitei Kinparo Hontei?

Satoumitei Kinparo Hontei opened in 2011 after the renovation of a long-established ryokan with a history exceeding 120 years. This is a seaside inn where guests can truly relax.

Picture courtesy of Satoumitei Kinparo Hontei

Despite being a small inn with just eight guest rooms, all offer stunning ocean views. Some even have a mineral spring bath with direct access to the balcony, so guests can spend some luxurious time here. It’s only a 30-meter walk from the ryokan to the seashore. Guests can gaze out at the great ocean view from their rooms or go down to the water’s edge.

The ryokan’s interior and exterior design are both very impressive. But it’s the beauty of the interior spaces that really stands out.

Picture courtesy of Satoumitei Kinparo Hontei

There are also two kinds of large public mineral spring baths in the hotel. First, there’s a stone bath that was inspired by a tidal pool on the seashore. This bath looks as though it’s directly connected to the ocean. There’s also a wooden bath with a terrace where the faint scent of cypress gently wafts through the air. Mineral spring water from Oarai Isosaki Shrine is heated and used for the baths.

One more feature of this inn is the delicious cuisine using homegrown ingredients from Ibaraki Prefecture. This is definitely a must-visit spot for people looking for a quiet and relaxing holiday.

Oarai: A Town Filled With Many Highlights

There is a variety of other attractions in Oarai Town, such as the Oarai Sun Beach, known for its beautiful views of reflection beach, hot spring facilities, golf courses, glamping spots, Marine Tower with its “Girls and Panzer” (popular animation) cafe inside, and many other. This town is a place with so many highlights that a single visit might not give you enough time to see everything! Stop in and explore it all for yourself!

 

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