Subscribe
Oarai's Kamiiso no Torii, a gate erected on coastal rocks, is a popular spot for photographers to catch the sunrise.

Oarai's Kamiiso no Torii, a gate erected on coastal rocks, is a popular spot for photographers to catch the sunrise. (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

Japan may have a reputation for exemplary public transit systems, but small towns such as Oarai in Ibaraki prefecture present the perfect opportunity for a weekend road trip with the family. 

Nestled between Lake Hinuma, the Naka River and the Pacific Ocean, Oarai is 9 square miles with a population of approximately 15,000 people. It lacks the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Yokohama or Kyoto, but holds a wide variety of entertainment for anyone interested in Japanese food, culture and history. 

The town’s premier attraction is Aqua World, a five-story, 213,000-square-foot aquarium that’s home to 68,000 fish and other sea creatures for a total of 580 different species. The aquarium is also home to Japan’s largest variety of sharks, with 59 different species on display. 

For families more interested in eating fish than looking at them, Oarai boasts a highly popular open-air fish market that’s just a 15-minute walk from Aqua World. 

At Nakaminato Fish Market, just south of Oarai’s main port, visitors may purchase freshly caught fish or try authentic Japanese cuisine such as sushi or takoyaki. 

The Nakaminato Fish Market is just south of Oarai's main port and features a wide variety of fresh seafood and seafood restaurants.

The Nakaminato Fish Market is just south of Oarai's main port and features a wide variety of fresh seafood and seafood restaurants. (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

Traveling farther south along Oarai’s coastline, visitors may find the town’s most picturesque attraction, a site much older than anything else in town. 

Built more than 1,000 years ago, the Oarai Isosaki Shrine is a Shinto temple dedicated to Daikoku-sama, a god of nation-building and prosperity, and Sukunahikona no Mikoto, a god of medicine.

A short walk from the shrine is Oarai’s famous Kamiiso no Torii. A traditional Japanese torii, or gate, marks the entrance to a shrine or other sacred site. The Kamiiso no Torii is built on a series of oceanside cliffs. Mornings at the location are awash with photographers, who hope to catch the dramatic scene of the sun rising alongside or within the gate itself. 

Oarai is a 1 ½-hour drive from Tokyo or 2 ½ hours from Yokosuka, just the right destination for a weekend getaway or a daytrip. 

The small town of Oarai is a well-known fishing village with an open-air seafood market and a large aquarium.

The small town of Oarai is a well-known fishing village with an open-air seafood market and a large aquarium. (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

Without a car, the easiest option is to take the JR East Line from Shinagawa Station to Mito Station, and then transfer to the Kashimarinka Tetsudo Oarai-Kashima line. Oarai’s expansive topography makes an ideal setting for a drive, but pedestrians may easily find a bus or taxi. And the small-town scenery makes for a great view while walking too. 

ON THE QT

Location: Higashiibaraki district, Ibaraki prefecture (Google coordinatates: 36.315730, 140.573809)

Directions: Shinagawa Station’s JR East Line to Mito Station, Kashimarinka Tetsudo Oarai-Kashima Line to Oarai Station.

Cost: Aqua World admission: 2,000 yen ($13.51) for adults; train fare: 4,220 yen

Food: Fresh seafood, sushi, Chinese cuisine, Italian

Information: www.Oarai-Info.jp/page/dir000476.html 

wilson.alex@stripes.com

Twitter: @AlexMNWilson

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up