My relationship with Ota City used to be a rather professional one – it all started with an e-mail from my editor: he asked me whether I was interested in exploring the different sightseeing spots, shops and restaurants of Ota.
Ota? To be honest, I first had to google the place and make sure my editor did not mean Ota in Gunma Prefecture. However, I was surprised to find out that Ota City is the biggest of the 23 Tokyo wards stretching out in the west from Denenchofu along the Tamagawa River until Haneda Airport at its southeastern border.
Ota City is the biggest of the 23 Tokyo wards
Ota City hasn’t been on my radar yet, and it would have probably never been if I hadn’t accepted this writing assignment. Luckily I did, because despite my initial skepticism at the beginning of this project, I quickly had to admit: there are loads of things to do here with far less crowds than in central Tokyo.
Ota-ku is home to a world famous temple complex, hosts 45 Sento and Onsen Hot spring baths, has a beach, many parks and green spaces, excellent running and cycle routes and – very important if you are a foodie like me – numerous restaurants, izakayas and food shops with local specialties which can only be found in Ota-ku.
I spent two months visiting museums, hot spring resorts, parks and temples, I put on weight by tasting every single local specialty, I met craft makers from the area, and local people – it seems to me to Ota City people are extraordinary friendly – and even though I thought I was never going to say this: there is still a lot more yet to be discovered.
I picked some places (doing a selection was hard) which I enjoyed to most, some places inside for rainy days and some outdoor activities, something to fill up with culture and something to fill your belly. Check them out and let us know what you think!
Omori Furusato Seaside Park:
This was the first place I visited in Ota-ku, on a very hot day in August. My first thought: wow, you don’t have to leave Tokyo to get some tropical vibes! Just walk 15 minutes from Heiwajima Station. Although swimming is not allowed at this beach, you can refresh by dipping your feet into the water and enjoying the fresh breeze during a stroll along the beach. Build sandcastles with your kids, lean back in the shadow of the trees, and have an ice cream from the small food stall.
Mochi Shop Asanoya:
If you are in the Ikegami district (you should definitely visit the Honmon-ji temple complex in that neighborhood), stop by Asanoya. This traditional family-run shop opened its doors during the Edo period and serves the famous kuzumochi, which is a traditional confectionary made from arrowroot, starch and water. To satisfy your sweet cravings top it up with kinako (sweetened soybean flour) and kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup). It’s the perfect stopover if you want to mingle with locals from the area. If you are more a savory type: every day there is a different kind of yummy yakisoba on the menu!
With the vast selection of Onsen and Sento in Ota City, it is hard to recommend only one place. I chose Kugahara-yu, because it is one of the few places which allows children from all ages and accepts visitors wearing tatoos (a couple of other hot springs are currently considering changing their policy as the 2020 Olympics are approaching). The bathhouse hosts a majestic mosaic of Mt. Fuji and has been recently renovated. It comes with a spacious bath with massage jets, a hot and cold bath or an outdoor bath with black onsen water. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the overwhelming friendliness of the owners!
Heiwa no Mori Koen Field Athletic Course
If you want your kids to let off some steam and energy, this is the place to go! Don’t be afraid to join in the fun yourself, when I visited the Athletic Course, half of the people climbing rope bridges, swings and slides, enjoying water games and ziplines, were adults. Some of the obstacle-course playgrounds are quite challenging and if you don’t want to get wet, avoid the water games – my colleague almost fell into the pond while crossing the bridge.
Omori Nori Museum
Nori (seaweed) plays an important role in Ota City (not only as a topping on Yakisoba). Nori farming began 300 years ago and the Omori Nori Museum has displays depicting the history of nori cultivation, and hands-on activities such as drying and making nori. Visiting this museum is the ideal activity for a rainy day, as admission is free. In case of fine weather, climb the stairs to the terrace for some stunning views over the City and Omori Furusato Seaside Park.
Okoshi Food Shop
My last recommendation is for all those people who are sometimes too lazy to cook but still enjoy eating a balanced and healthy meal. Okoshi, located in the Umeyashiki Shoutengai, offers a great selection of family-style cooking and specializes in souzai, which means accompaniment or side dish. I was able to purchase a full meal for two people for 700 Yen! No wonder the store in is always packed with locals. If you want to taste the Okoshi bestsellers, be an early bird: the beans and the okara (soy pulp) salad, which is prepared with fresh vegetables and plants such as carrot and kelp, sell out pretty quickly!
International City Ota Festival
Did we make you curious? There is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the city of Ota-ku at the International City Ota Festival in ‘Sora no Hi’ Haneda, which takes place on October 3rd, from 10 am until 4 pm, in the area next to Tenkubashi Station on the Keikyu Airport Line and the Tokyo Monorail.
You will be able to taste local cuisine at the various food stalls, experience the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and watch performances of Japanese dancing. One of my personal highlights will be the presence of various craftmakers from Ota City. During my visits I had the unique opportunity to visit a Kimono maker at his workshop, an ice and fruit carver, a tatami maker and a wood artist, who are united under the Ota Craft association. At the International City Ota Festival many of them they will showcase their work such as fruit carving.
If you are more the history type, book a place at the guided multilingual Haneda tour, where you will be offered a closer look at Japanese everyday life.
The festival is free and there are free shuttle busses from JR Kamata and JR Omori Station as well as a loop line between Haneda Airport and the event venue.
Check out our Facebook Page for more info about Ota City and the Festival! I will be there, so hope to see you there!