Ibaraki and Itako

Ibaraki-ken (茨城県)
Ibaraki is in the eastern Kanto region of Japan. Ibaraki used to be called the Hitachi Provence, and actually the company Hitachi comes from the city of the same name in Ibaraki. The capital of Ibaraki is Mito. If you’re a JET Setter placed in Ibaraki, all of your prefectural meetings will be in Mito at either the Mito Cultural Center or the Ibaraki Prefectural Center. 
Mito Art Building

Mito Art Building

About 15% of Ibaraki is actually national parks, the Suigo-Tsukuba Quasi-National Park (水郷筑波国定公園 Suigō-Tsukuba Kokutei Kōen) being the biggest. Much of Ibaraki is also dedicated to agriculture, specifically in the cultivation of rice, bell peppers, Chinese cabbage, and soy beans. Ibaraki is a big producer of the infamous food natto, which is fermented soybeans. It’s a love it or hate it kind of food, and I love it!
600px-Map_of_Japan_with_highlight_on_08_Ibaraki_prefecture.svg

Ibaraki-ken is north of Chiba and south of Fukushima.

The JET Programme CIRs of Ibaraki have a blog focused on bringing up to date information on the current events and things to do. It’s appropriately called IbaraKey so head on over there for ideas about what to do if/when you come to Ibaraki. You can also check out the Ibaraki YouTube channel for some videos to give you ideas as well.

Itako

Itako is located in the southeastern section of Ibaraki, situated close to Kashima and Kamisu. Itako is a fairly new city as it is now. It was established on April 1st, 2001 by combining the small village called Itako and the small city Ushibori, which were both originally part of the Namegata District.

Itako is the red.

Itako-shi is the red inside the pig/dog shape there.

The city’s biggest tourist season is in the summer. From May to the end of June there is the Suigo-Itako Iris Festival (水郷潮来 あやめ祭り Suigo-Itako Ayame Matsuri). The iris park is something amazing to see when the irises are in full bloom. There are over one million of about 500 different kinds of purple, yellow, and white iris flowers.

This festival has been around since 1952, when iris-lovers placed cut iris flowers in beer bottles as decorations in for the festival. Until 1955, the Itako area was built upon a system of canals. For that reason, when a new bride and/or her goods were to be transported to her new home (the husband’s family home) it was done using a Sappa boat. These traditional boats are still used in Itako as tourist attractions. People can ride in the boats and enjoy the beautiful scenery as they travel up and down the rivers.

And to this day, the Bridal Boat (Yome-iri Fune) wedding send of ceremony is performed with a bride at the Iris Park. After arriving at the ‘Itako Bride’ memorial, the bride will walk along the pathway to the boat with her matchmaker and the boatman, then the boat will set off. Often the groom will be waiting at the Wai-Wai Fantasy dock.

I have actually participated in the event as an Iris Princess (あやめ Ayame Musume) three times.

The Itako Festival (潮来祭り) happens in July, which is different from the Iris Festival. The Itako Matsuri is the more traditional Japanese festival with a parade, food vendors, and several different events to do every weekend. If you’re a JET Setter, I suggest that if you want to be a part of your community in Japan to join in at the matsuri because that’s when the people of your city will be most willing to have fun and be relaxed around you.

There are other festivals that occur throughout the year. Another festival of note is the Candlelight Festival at the  local Itako shrine (水雲山潮音寺) which occurs in early August. Over 10,000 candles are lit as prayers or wishes and then placed on the ground around the shrine.

The first one I went to was a special event. It was a candlelight vigil for the people lost in the big earthquake on March 11th. People’s names were written alongside the paper cups, and the cups had candles in them. Visitors to the shrine lit the candles in remembrance of all that was lost. It was beautiful. The entire place was alight, and the candles were put into formations. One was a heart with the kanji for, “Ganbare!” which means “do your best” or “fight”  or “hang in there.”My friend Nobuko took me, and I’m forever grateful she did. It was a wonderful, sad, yet uplifting experience.

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

Please come to Itako when you get the chance!

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