Having been somewhat disappointed on our attempt to view the iris blossoms last month (see "あやめまつり - Ayamematsuri") we headed back to Itako City where we had found lotus and irises in bloom, but had only been able to spend about an hour.
This time, we were not disappointed. Far more of the flowers were blooming. Itako City is a wonderful place to visit any time of year. Famous for its canals, irises, grilled eels, and boat brides (Hanayome fune), the city itself is part of the Suigo-Tsukuba Quasi-National park. Every weekend during Ayamematsuri (Iris Festival) they do their best to recreate an atmosphere of Edo period Japan or at least a nostalgic taste of it, and show off their one million iris plants of some 500 varieties.
After finding a suitable, i.e. free, place to park, we walked over one of the many bridges crossing the Maekawa - the main canal which has been preserved and along the banks of which the town's gardens are planted. Local lore speaks of 12 bridges (Kato-shu Junibashi), but somehow it seems like there are more. There were far more flowers in bloom than before and the place was full of tourists - many of whom had come out from Tokyo on bus tours such as those offered by Hato. [By the way, if you ever visit Tokyo, K and I can recommend Hato tours. They have excellent English language tours of Tokyo and vicinity. And if you're touring this area, K is a licensed guide and interpreter.]
To give you an idea of Itako's popularity, when we went there in 2005, our visit was followed a few days later by the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. See my post: The Princess and the Pee.
In my last post about Itako, I have a picture (which I got from a travel website) of a bride on a boat - "Hanayome Fune". Would you believe we saw the very same bride? True. As we walked through the iris gardens, we saw that a bride and her parents were waiting to begin a procession across the garden to a waiting boat.
We made our way to one of the bridges under which the bride boat would glide. The procession through the garden is slow, with the father leading the way, the bride following a few meters behind him, and the mother
After I had taken many pics and even a video clip, we learned that the bride was a model and the whole thing a performance put on for the tourists. (Actually, I think K suspected such all along). As they can't be sure of weddings every weekend, the city - supported by the tour companies - puts on a show for visitors. So that is why the bride pictured above looks exactly like the bride in the travel website picture. (For a minute there I thought she might be a black widow, going through one husband after another!) Though there was not a real wedding going on, I thought it was great to see.
Luckily for us, there was a real wedding that day and about twenty minutes later, the real bride began her journey. The tour groups went off to lunch as it was approaching noon, which thinned out the crowd by about 2/3 and made getting a good location on the bridge easier.
(Sorry, but I can't help thinking of Tiny Tim singing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips".) During this time, the groom is waiting at the place where the wedding will take place.
A group of her friends, dressed in kimono, were on the bridge with us and called to her. She looked up and smiled and waved. Naturally, I missed that shot. In the bow are gifts for the groom - rice, sake, etc. More pictures in the slide show and link at the end of this post.
The building in the background is a restaurant. We've eaten there and enjoyed both the food and the view. Nice souvenir shop too.
After that, as the gardens were not so crowded, so we strolled around enjoying the irises and lotus blossoms. While taking some pictures of flowers I came upon a gathering of women in yukata (a summer cotton dress) with straw hats. Something was up. Soon, they dispersed throughout the garden in preparation for a Ayamedori - Iris dance. The "official" song of Itako played and the women began to dance along the paths.
It was almost 1 o'clock as we walked back across the Maekawa river and sought out the soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant that the Moody Minstrel wrote about last year. We had enjoyed a lunch there after reading Moody's post (thanks MM). The owner is an elderly man who was a student pilot flying float planes on nearby Lake Kasumigaura when WWII ended, and has much to tell about the history of Itako City. They also have an interesting collection of dolls, model canal boats, planes, and photos. (Read more about it in Moody's blog post: A Lunchtime View of a Dying Art) The soba there is hand made of course, and quite good. That's right, we didn't have shrieking eels that day. We ate cold soba with tempura instead. Yum.
Trivia: Itako City has free local bus service.