Soon, irises, or “ayame (あやめ)” in Japanese, are going to be in full bloom in Japan. As a matter of fact, two big iris festivals are about to take place in Katori City (香取市), Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) and Itako City (潮来市), Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県). These two cities face each other across the Hitachi-Tone River (常陸利根川).
As well as their beautiful iris flowers, these festivals are well-known for their special spectacles.
One of the spectacles in Katori and Itako is Yomeiribune. “Yomeiri” means marrying into the husband’s family, while “bune” means a boat (a small wooden boat in this context). Here, you can see the historical wedding ceremony of Sawara and Itako: a bride in a Japanese wedding dress sits on a small wooden boat that moves through the river. This is a reenactment of the old tradition but the brides and grooms are actually getting married.
Now, let’s get to the iris festivals!
From June 3 to June 25, 2017, Suigo Sawara Ayame Park (水郷佐原あやめパーク) in Katori City, Chiba Prefecture will hold its annual Suigo Sawara Iris Festival. There will be around 1.5 million iris flowers of 400 types at this festival.
There are going to be some spectacles and activities during the festival. While the boat ride is always available, other performances tend to be on certain weekends only. Please check out the schedule listed below so that you don’t miss the one that interests you.
- Yomeiribune at 10:30 AM on June 11, 17, and 25, 2017
- Sawara Bayashi (佐原囃子), a traditional Japanese band, at 10:30 AM and 1:00 PM on June 3, 10, 18, and 24, 2017
- Oranda Gakutai (おらんだ楽隊), a Japanese marching band inspired by Western music, at 9:00 AM and 12:00 PM on June 4, 2017
- Ennai Fune Meguri (園内舟めぐり), or wooden boat ride within the park, everyday from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM (500 yen for junior high school students and older, and 200 yen for 3-year-olds to elementary school students)
Festival Hours and Admission Fees
Festival hours: 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM (except on June 3, 2017 when the park opens at 9:00 AM)
Admission fees: 800 yen per adult and 400 yen per child (up to junior high school students)
How to Get to the Venue
The nearest train station to Suigo Sawara Ayame Park is the JR Sawara Station (佐原駅). It will take more than an hour to walk from the station to Ayame Park so I recommend taking a shuttle bus or taxi.
From Sawara Station, there will be a shuttle bus to Suigo Sawara Ayame Park from May 1 to July 31, 2017. The bus fare is 500 yen for adults, 250 yen for elementary school students, while smaller kids can ride for free.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, the bus leaves Sawara Station at 9:20 AM, 10:20 AM, 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 3:25 PM for Ayame Park. On Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, the bus departs at 9:20 AM, 10:20 AM, 10:35 AM, 11:30 AM, 12:00 PM, 1:30 PM, 2:05 PM, and 3:25 PM.
The bus leaves Suigo Sawara Ayame Park for Sawara Station at 10:50 AM, 12:15 PM, 2:10 PM, 4:05 PM, and 5:10 PM on Tuesdays to Thursdays. On other days, the bus is due at 11:15 AM, 12:10 PM, 12:35 PM, 2:05 PM, 2:45 PM, 3:10 PM, 4:05 PM, and 5:10 PM.
(These bus departure schedules are from June 3 to June 25, 2017 only. They have a different schedule for the other days.)
If your schedule doesn’t match the bus timetable well, you can also take a taxi from Sawara Station, while will take approximately 15 minutes.
There is a tourist information center near the JR Sawara Station. I recommend you to drop by the office if you need help.
Sawara is a historically and culturally rich district. You can explore other areas in Sawara after your visit to Suigo Sawara Ayame Park.
The Suigo Itako Iris Festival will take place in Suigo Itako Ayame En (水郷潮来あやめ園) from May 27 to June 25, 2017. This park proudly offers 1 million iris flowers of 500 types.
The Suigo Itako Iris Festival will have similar spectacles and activities to those of the Suigo Sawara Iris Festival.
- Yomeiribune at 11:00 AM on Wednesdays; at 11:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 7:30 PM on Saturdays; at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM on Sundays; and at 12:30 PM on June 11, 2017
- Light-up from 6:30 PM to 10:00 PM every day
- Rosen Yuran (ろ舟遊覧), or river boat tour, from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM every day (1,000 yen for adults, 500 yen for elementary school students, and free for smaller kids
Festival Hours and Admission Fees
Thankfully, admission to Suigo Itako Ayame En is free! Moreover, the park is open 24/7.
How to Get to the Venue
The location of Suigo Itako Ayame En is very convenient. The nearest train station is the JR Itako Station (潮来駅), which is only a three-minute walk from the park.
— とよかつ (@tykt_yk) June 6, 2016
On May 27 and 28, June 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, and 18, 2017, the Tokkyu Ayame Matsuri, a limited express train to Sawara and Itako, is supposed to run from Tokyo (東京). It will depart from the JR Shinjuku Station (新宿駅) at 8:29 AM and will terminate at the JR Kashimajingu Station (鹿島神宮駅) at 10:38 AM.
If you want to go to the Suigo Sawara Iris Festival, get off at Sawara Station. The estimated arrival time is 10:21 AM. But if you want to go to the Suigo Itako Iris Festival, you will need to get off at Itako Station. The estimated arrival time is 10:29 AM.
On its way back to Tokyo, the Tokkyu Ayame Matsuri will leave Itako Station at 3:38 PM and Sawara Station at 3:47 PM. It will arrive at Shinjuku at 5:38 PM. For more information about this limited train, please ask a JR information office.
Which of these two festivals would you like to check out? Whichever you choose, you are sure to have a fantastic experience. Also, it’s not impossible to go to both festivals in one day. If you have a car or bicycle, you can easily drop by both. Enjoy millions of irises and several gorgeous spectacles in Sawara and Itako!