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Itako City in Ibaraki Prefecture neighbors Japan’s longest river, the Tonegawa.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), the town flourished as a waterway relay port between northern Japan and the nation’s capital, Edo — known today as Tokyo. Until highways were built about 60 years ago, waterways were the main transportation of Itako; people even commuted using them.

One boat — almost the size of a canoe — called a “Hanayome Bune” brought to Itako some of the more unique cargo. “Hanayome Bune” means “bride’s boat,” and the three-passenger boat carried new brides to meet their husbands, along with rice, sake and household goods.

Today, during the Ayame (iris) Festival (June 1-30) — the city’s biggest tourist attraction — a traditional “bride’s boat” is recreated every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. For the festivities, a bride dressed in a pure white wedding kimono is invited aboard the boat from the rowboat wharf at Maekawa Ayame Park, to be sculled to her husband-to-be. Many bridal couples apply to be chosen to participate in the reenactment.

Itako’s beautiful waterfront scenery has been much admired by writers and artists. Along the sides of the river, an iris flower park has been set up, and as the season approaches, as many as one million plants of around 500 colorful varieties come into bloom in purple, white and yellow.

Last year’s festival attracted about half a million visitors.

If you go

Directions: To get there, take Sobu Line “Airport Narita” at 8:10 a.m. from Tokyo Station and the rear four cars of the train go to Itako after stopping at Narita. The train will arrive in Itako at 10:16 a.m.

Cost: The train fare is 1,890 yen.

Information: Itako City; 0299-63-1111

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