A stone’s throw from Haneda Airport, Tokyo’s Ota Ward has everything you need to get a taste of Japan, from famous temples to delicious dumplings to unusual black-water sento—so what are you waiting for?

Haneda is right next to Tokyo, but you may not want to venture into the big city, or perhaps you’ve been before. Either way, Ota is the perfect alternative. A small and unusual city, it has it’s own quirks and specialties waiting to be explored, and you won’t be disappointed. So whether you have a few hours or a whole day to spend—here are some of the best spots and things to do in Ota:

1. Relax at Senzoku-ike Park

Senzokuike park
Photo by iStock.com/K2_keyleter

If you want an escape after a long flight, Senzoku-ike Park is the ideal spot. Surrounding a beautiful lake with swan boats and a torii gate, the park has enough for a relaxed afternoon and is especially pretty during cherry blossom season. With the name literally translating to “washing your feet”, it was where Nichiren did just this on his way to Ikegami Temple. The pond is believed to be a power spot and many priests would rest here during their pilgrimage to the temple. There is a small shrine opposite the lake featuring decorative horses.

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2. Soak in the black water of Ota’s sento and onsen

With more sento than any other ward in Tokyo, Ota is the best place to relax and enjoy the public baths that are synonymous with Japanese culture. With a combination of public bathhouses (sento) and natural hot springs (onsen) you can take your pick—with some offering a combination of the two. Of the 46 bath houses in Ota, around 20 offer black water. Hasunuma Onsen and Kamata Onsen both offer the black baths, drawn from the hot springs below Tokyo Bay and containing tiny particles of fossilize plants. Entry to bathhouses is around 400 yen and you are usually required to bring your own towels, although rental sets of soap and towels are available.

3. Explore Ikegami Honmonji Temple

Ikegami Honmonji | Photo by iStock.com/Japanesescape_Footages

If you climb the 96 stairs that lead to this unusual temple complex, you will not be disappointed. With a series of beautiful buildings including a pagoda and an unusual Hoto, the famous temple has plenty to enjoy. Founded by Nichiren shortly before his death here in 1282, the site is of great importance to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and is also home to an annual festival commemorating the anniversary of his death. Over 300,000 people attend and the highlight is the parade of lanterns and cherry blossom held aloft by over 3000 participants as they make their way from Ikegami Station to the temple grounds. During the rest of the year, you can take your time exploring the many small delights of the area, with statues and offerings dotted around. Aside from the large and beautifully decorated main hall and the oldest pagoda of its size in Kanto, the Hoto is worth the trip alone. Located in a graveyard below the main hall, the unique structure was built on the site of Nichiren’s cremation. There is a small garden called Shotoen which is opened to the public for a few days a year in summer.

4. Join a class at Ota City Tourist Information Center

Although tourist centers are usually only good for maps and directions, Ota City’s has plenty more on offer than that. Here you can take your pick from a number of free or paid classes in Japanese culture and immerse yourself in the traditions. If you’re limited on time there is no easier way to get a taste of the skills that make Japan famous. Free classes include a manners and etiquette class, simple Japanese lessons, traditional games, and an origami workshop, along with others. From between 2,500 yen and 5,000 yen per person, you can take part in flower arranging classes (ikebana), a manga workshop, calligraphy or a kimono experience. The center also has maps and directions, if needed of course, as well as souvenirs.

5. Spend an evening on Bourbon Road

Bourbon Street Wine Bar
A wine bar on Bourbon Street | Photo by Gregory Lane

If you’re in Ota during the evening, there’s only one place to go for an authentic Japanese night out—and that’s Bourbon Road in Kamata. As the hub of the ward, Kamata has plenty of restaurants and shops to keep you busy, but this area comes alive at night. With more izakaya, bars and food joints than you could ever hope to visit, this street has all the makings of a very memorable night. Whether you stick to a five-seater bar or join a rowdy izakaya for food and drinks, you can enjoy a taste of Japanese nightlife. Be sure to try some of the late-night specialties such as the winged gyoza (dumplings), yaki-niku (grilled meat) and yaki-tori (skewered chicken) between drinks and make some friends along the way! You can see the best spots on this handy map for Kamata.

6. Get some good luck at Anamori Inari Shrine

If you can’t visit Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha, this may be your second best chance to see a tunnel of torii gates. Modeled after the Kansai original, Anamori Inari Shrine is dedicated to the deity of rice cultivation and was originally built on what is now the site of Haneda Airport. Together with two other nearby shrines, it forms the main Haneda Shrine. Once you’ve stepped through the tunnel, you will see the inner shrine, where you can take a little good luck home with you. The shrine sells o-suna (sand), which, if sprinkled around your home, will bring you good fortune in business. Alternatively, you can pray for safety in travel or exam success, with many small shrines called Oyashiro around the site. Keep an eye out for the festively dressed Kon-chan who guards the shrine—the friendly fox statue is dressed each day by local residents.

Access: Alight at Anamoriinari Station, on the Keihin Kyuko Line – you will need to transfer at Shinagawa if you are t raveling from Haneda Airport.

7. Start the day at Ota Market

Shirasu on sale at a fish market
Photo by iStock.com/amaliacoyle

If you arrive early you can head to the biggest fish, fruit and flower market in Japan which starts at 7am. The market has a visitors center and a fishery exhibit along with plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy the freshest of ingredients. From the rooftop section you can view Fuji on a clear day and there are raised catwalks for viewing auctions. The whole market opens at 5am until 3pm and is closed on Sundays and national holidays. Fish auctions begin at 5:40am, vegetables from 6:50am and fruits and flowers starting from 7am.

If you’re in Haneda for a shorter layover, check our guide on how to make the most of your time!

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