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