Itako Iris Festival
On Sunday, June 17, I had the pleasure of attending the Itako Ayame Matsuri (Iris Festival) in Itako-shi, Ibaraki-ken. It was a cloudy day...
… and with rain in the forecast, I was worried that standing in the rain and looking at flowers would honestly make for an ‘interesting’ experience. But luckily for me and those that I was with, it was a day that kept getting better and better.
Itako‘s Iris Festival started back in 1952 and has been seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year ever since. The festival usually starts near the end of May and finishes up in June. From what I was told, about one million irises are planted for the occasion. It was certainly stunning to see how much hard work went into preparing for this event and how beautiful everything becomes, especially with the various pathways and bridges scattered about.
It’s always a pleasure to be close to Japan’s waterways and it surprised me that Itako sported one right beside the festival. I don’t know why, but I could spend hours around these river ‘trails’. I find waterways through cities and towns to be a classic feature to the makings of a cool place. Little did I realize, the Maekawa River held a special meaning to the festival.
So, what makes this particular waterway interesting in regards to Itako? Well, up until 1955 or so, waterways in this area were the main routes for transportation. Life was based on water, per se. Being so, boats were always used to transport the bride to her groom and ceremony. As the times have changed, weddings do not rely on the water, but during the Iris Festival, couples can apply and conduct their wedding in a more traditional way. So, this is where the marriage boat comes in. More than 30 couples complete the ‘Marriage Boat’ in what would commence the ceremony in a very solemn and lovely way.
People crowded the river side and the bridges to get a glimpse of the two boats flowing down the river. As the bride’s boat led, the music boat followed and played very gentle, almost sporadic notes. It was fitting for the occasion and the onlookers were quite respectful and tranquil.
I really wish I could have gotten better shots of the bride, but alas, it was my fault for not noticing the time and the obvious clue 30 minutes before the ceremony began.
Everything seen above took place before lunch (which was delish by the way). And the afternoon lead into what could be told as a short story. Stay tuned and I might just tell you.