Saturday afternoon - the first K has had free in two months and she and I have each had enough practice with the new vacuum cleaner (it really sucks - that's a good thing). K suggests iris viewing in nearby Itako City or Katori City. Late May and most of June is the season for あやめまつり Ayamematsuri - the Iris Festival. We opted for Katori City's Botanical Garden, as last year we saw it in its full glory. It has over 150,000 blue flags and irises, 1.5 million Japanese Iris (400 kinds), plus the largest collection of lotus plants in Japan. The grounds are beautifully laid out as well.
As we were arriving a bit late in the day, we decided to drive right through Itako City without stopping, cross the Tone river, and go directly to the gardens. We paid the entrance fee (500 yen each) and began a leisurely stroll around the grounds. (Pandas do everything at a leisurely pace.) It didn't take long to wonder, "where have all the flowers gone?"
It turns out, even though they advertise Ayame Matsuri at roughly the same time as neighboring Itako City, we hit it at a bad time. The blue flags and many other iris had come and gone in April and May, and the Japanese Iris had yet to make a showing. Sigh. there were some along the banks of the pond and here and there, but nothing like we had seen last year. Of course, we had gone earlier last year. It was a nice place to spend an hour and enjoy what was there, but we couldn't help but feel a bit let down. Ironically, when we came last time and there were lots of flowers, I took tons of pics unaware of a big smudge on my camera lens (due to an in fitting cap) so my pics that day were lousy, and I was anxious to make up for that with the new camera. As they say in Hawaii - "Humbug! Dat's why!".
It's all good. The brochure we picked up has a nice calendar showing what months different flowers bloom, so in the future we will know. As I said, it is a beautiful garden. So, we took our leave and headed toward home.
On the way, of course, we were going by Itako City, so K turned and went through the section of town where they have iris gardens. Guess what? Lots of iris blossoms! We cruised around a bit to find a free place to park - some charge 1000 yen or more ($8.25)- but we found one where we didn't have to pay.
Ah, that's more like it.
Iris festival is a big draw for Itako City. Like a little "Venice" they have boat tours - both human powered and outboard motor powered - available along the Tone river and there is a canal in center of town along which they have planted beds of iris and built picturesque bridges. At one time, boats were the main mode of transport and the water network allowed goods (mostly rice) to flow all the way to Tokyo. If you search the Moody Minstrel blog and this one for "Itako" you will find other posts about this.
Traditional weddings here feature the bride and her parents riding in a boat along the canal to the wedding with gifts of sake and rice for the groom's family.
We walked through the iris planters and over the many bridges built for viewing the flowers and canal. During mid-day hours on weekends there are free guides available to show people around. In the past we have taken a motorized boat along the canal - we were the only customers on the boat. Next time, we'll try one of the open boats operated by an oarsman.
Next to the entrance to a canal boating business, there is a statue and small stone that looks like a monument of some kind. Upon closer inspection it had five buttons built into it with which one could select a traditional Japanese tune that gets played on hidden speakers by the iris beds. (What a country).
Another local specialty is unagi - grilled eels. I first visited Itako in 1987 and really enjoyed the dish and still do. There is also a very good soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant in town which Moody Minstrel wrote about and we subsequently enjoyed dining at last year. But dinner out would wait until another trip. We'd finally found what we came looking for - iris blossoms.