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Oarai, Japan


Known for long stretches of pristine beach, a large aquarium and an oceanfront shrine, the seaside town of Oarai entices you with all things coastal. Of course, you’ll want to try some fresh seafood while you’re here, such as a rice bowl with raw sardines served with grated ginger and soy sauce. Caught just offshore, the young sardines must be eaten the same day as they are caught, and thus they draw gourmets from around Japan to Oarai. A short jaunt inland to Mito would also be worthwhile, as this prefectural capital is home to one of Japan’s three great gardens, Kairakuen. Opened in 1842 by the local lord Tokugawa Nariaki, the garden is famous for its more than 3,000 plum trees, which herald the arrival of spring when they bloom from late February through March.