May 26
Jun 24
A bride on the waterways of Itako

Itako Iris Festival

Blushing brides and purple petals in Ibaraki

By Mandy Bartok    - 2 min read
Venue: Suigo Ayame Itako Gardens When: May 26th - Jun 24th 2020 ,  9:00am - 10:00pm

Most of the year, the canal-laced town of Itako in Ibaraki prefecture is a quiet place. Come in June, however, and you'll find the town awash with the color purple and traditional wedding parties being ferries gliding up and down the local waterways.

Previous report of this festival

On May 18th 2013, Itako kicked off its 62nd annual Iris Festival. Over the course of six weeks, over one million irises (around 500 different varieties) will unfurl their indigo, pale violet, white and even yellow petals in the Maekawa Iris Garden on the bank's of Itako's river. The iris plots are criss-crossed by a series of wooden bridges, from which visitors and photographers can find the perfect vantage point to shoot pictures of the bloom.

On Wednesdays and weekends, local actors and actresses recreate one of Itako’s old customs, that of sending a bride down the river to her wedding reception. She first processes through the blooming flower gardens, followed by her husband and mother (ostensibly to block any escape routes, I am assuming). At the riverbank, she climbs aboard a small boat, takes her position in the front of the craft, and is poled down the river to the cheers and flashbulbs of the thousand of us spectators who are captivated by the sight. (You can catch this spectacles at 11am on Wednesdays, and at 11am and 2pm on weekends.)

For those who prefer to take to the waters themselves, boatmen (and women) pole customers down the river for around 30 minutes with limited commentary in Japanese. Still, you don't need to understand the language to enjoy a cruise on the city's waterways and the perspective of the town from this an is unique. You can purchase tickets for your ride at booths on the riverbank, next to where the boats dock.

Aquatic weddings and boat rides aren't the only entertainment; several times a day on weekends, you'll also find women in iris-patterned kimono performing dances on the garden's paths. As the cloth flowers sway in the breeze next to the real blooms, it's an impressive sight to behold.

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Mandy Bartok

Mandy Bartok @mandy.bartok

Japan resident for 9 years, with time spent in Okinawa, Kumamoto and Tokyo. 

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Elena Lisina 3 months ago
Beautiful tradition, indeed!
Mandy Bartok Author 6 years ago
Great pictures, Stacy! I visited this festival before my daughter was born but if I were to go back now, she would make a beeline for that playground you posted. :) I'm glad you at least got to see the irises, if not the brides.
Stacy Kurokawa 6 years ago
Thank you for writing about this. I was just sorting out 10 years worth of photos all in Japan when I saw photos of this festival, I had to see if anybody had written about it yet for JapanTourist because it is so magical and picturesque. I never got to see the dancers or bride when I attended 5 years ago. We really enjoyed a boat ride and also walking distance from the festival site there is a great sake brewery, with free tour.
Mandy Bartok Author 6 years ago
Thank you, Nicole! This was a really unique event and I'm glad I had the opportunity to get to it!
Nicole Bauer 6 years ago
Fantastic article, Mandy, and awesome pictures. I didn't know about this festival and the custom. Thank you so much for sharing!