Road Trip on Ōarai Kashima Line (Part 2)
Tokushuku's resident fire deity, clam digging at Sun Beach, Ōarai's specialty rice cakes and a café with walls of glass bring the final leg of our journey to a resounding close.
We pick up where we last left off with dinner at Tsubakiya – a fifteen-year-old restaurant specializing in Chinese cuisine. We tuck into a delicious stir fry comprising of wood ear and egg before polishing off a Yokohama specialty – Sanmamen – a savoury soy-based ramen with a generous helping of bean sprouts. Tsubakiya easily makes the fourth spot on our travel guide and we are graciously offered a lift back to our hotel. Hotel New Aso’s service and amenities are impeccable; after a quick soak in the bath, we deem Hotel New Aso worthy of a space in our guide too and we retire for the evening.
We start early the next day, catching the Mito-bound train at 7.32am. We alight 5 minutes later at Tokushuku. As we exit the station, we spy a crowd of ladies in the distance and hurry over to see what they’re up to. We learn that they are on their way to clean Atago Shrine, home to Oatagosama, the resident fire deity. We tag along eagerly. Oatagosama is worshipped for preventing fire disasters in Tokushuku and was said to have been enshrined since a large fire predating even the World War. Atago Shrine makes the 6th entry in our guide.
We manage to catch our next train at 8.47 am and alight at Kashima-Asahi Station, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. We ask for directions to the nearest place of interest and are offered a lift to a supermarket run by the parents of famous comedian Manabu Takeuchi, half of comedy duo Kaminari. The supermarket, Super Takeuchi, sells Kaminari merchandise and even has a list of Kaminari showtimes. After looking through some photos of Manabu and his family in their childhood and sampling the store’s best-selling tuna platter, we put it in the travel guide as our 7th site and continue on our way.
We make it back to Kashima station with time to spare and hop on a train to Oarai Station, the namesake of the Oarai Kashima line. Oarai station is famous for its beaches and we set aside 3 and a half hours for a thorough exploration. After soliciting itinerary suggestions from the locals, we are given directions to Sun Beach where we can dig for clams.
We purchase some tools and make a short 1.5km walk to the beach, where we begin rooting through the sand for shellfish. Our initial efforts are unsuccessful and we are advised to refrain from digging too deeply. With this nugget of wisdom in mind, we set ourselves to our task once more and are rewarded with a sizeable haul at the end of our session. Clam digging season is from spring to summer and Oarai Sun Beach makes a perfect 8th entry for our guide.
Having worked up quite an appetite, we return to the station in search of lunch. Despite the surfeit of passers-by, the majority of them are only in town for a dragnet fishing event and can’t recommend a good restaurant. We finally find a local who lives just across the bridge in Nakaminato and she recommends Ajinomise Takahashi, a confectionery famous for Abekawa, or rice cakes.
We are greeted by a long queue snaking out from the Takahashi storefront. While most rice cakes are round balls formed from rice powder, Takahashi’s Abekawa are flat discs of flour which are grilled on a takoyaki machine for even heat distribution before they are removed to be glazed with sweet sauce and roasted soy flour. Takahashi’s chewy Abekawa sell like, well, hot cakes, with more than a few hundred skewers snapped up on a daily basis. Ajinomise Takahashi is the 9th entry in our travel guide.
After a mad dash back to the station, we make the 2.03pm train to Mito. We arrive just 18 minutes later and a group of locals direct us to Koubun Café at Senbako Lake, a picturesque body of water beside Mito Kairakuen Park, one of the three most famous gardens in Japan. Koubun Café is known for both its beautiful glass façade and its Senba Swan cream puffs which are shaped like elegant swans and stuffed full of flavorful black sesame or vanilla custard. Koubun café makes the tenth entry in our guide and with that, we conclude our journey.