Itako city is a small city located just south of Japan’s second largest lake ‘Kasumigaura’ in Ibaraki pref which is only 70min from Tokyo. It’s known for its canals, beautiful Iris flowers and its picturesque waterfront.
I went to see the Iris festival and really enjoyed it so I wanted learn more about the things to do in Itako. So, I contacted Itako city hall and talked to Okawa-san, who works in the Tourism department.
During my chat with Okawa-san, I learned that Itako two large festivals an award winning brewery and was famous for Pho (a Vietnamese soup noodle dish).
Below is my interview with Okawa-san, which I hope you enjoy!
Photo: Beautiful view of Itako bay filled with swans
Itako City is surrounded by water and is rich in nature. We have a famous Iris Festival, where people get to see the beautiful traditional Wedding boats (Yomeiri-fune).
There are also a variety of activities available on the waterfront, which are great fun for the whole family. But you can also find a few spots to just relax and enjoy the gentle sea breeze.
Photo: View of boats on Hitachi-Tonegawa River
Itako is beautiful all year round. However, it is particularly nice during the Suigo Itako Iris Festival, which happens from late May to late June every year.
The Iris Garden attracts many foreign visitors, as it is filled with about 1 million colorful Irises from approximately 500 species. They are incredibly beautiful and visitors are always impressed when they see the Irises in full bloom.
In 2023, the festival will be held between Friday the 19th of May – Sunday the 18th of June 2023. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays during this time, the Wedding boats (Yomeiri Boat) will be visible, which are a highlight during the event.
Photo: Iris Garden during Suigo Itako Iris Festival
Itako has a lot to discover, but if I had to recommend only three things, make sure to not miss the following!
1. The Suigo Itako Iris Festival
Every year we celebrate the Suigo Itako Iris Festival from late May to late June. It is a great event for all the family with the beautiful Irises blooming.
2. Michi-no-Eki Itako
Michi-no-Eki Itako is the Roadside station and locals love it for its fresh vegetables, rice, and other agricultural products made from local ingredients. It is a great place to buy souvenirs or try local sweets such as special gelato, yogurt and dorayaki as well as pho using Itako rice sold in one of the food trucks.
3. Tsugarugashi Ato Hiroba Ishi no Kura
One of the best ways to enjoy the waterfront atmosphere of the city is by using one of the old rowing boats which operate on the Mae River in Itako City. It is a very unique way to explore our town.
Photo: Suigo Itako Iris Festival / Michi-no-eki Itako / Tsugarugashi Ato Hiroba
Actually, there are a few, but if you had to just try one then I would recommend the Pho.
Although it is not a Japanese dish, it is made from Itako rice and Itako rice flour. You can find it at the Michi-no-Eki Itako (Roadside Station).
If you visit, please try it.
Photo: Pho made from local ingredients in Itako
There are two festivals everyone in Itako is excited about each year.
The Suigo Itako Iris Festival
As already mentioned this event is held every year from late May to late June and is celebrating the beautiful Irises blooming, along with a variety of events during the festival.
Itako Gion Sai Rei
This festival is held over three days starting from the first Friday in August.
The highlight of the festival is the Itako-bayashi which is performed by many floats and Gezaren (using flutes and Japanese drums). It is an amazing spectacle and great fun to attend.
Photo: The Suigo Itako Iris Festival / Itako Gion Festival
From a local perspective, Okawa-san really helped me understand what Itako city has to offer.
I hope you’ll have time to explore this wonderful town when you are in Japan!
If you are coming from Tokyo, taking a highway bus or driving is probably going to be the easiest.
By Bus (Highway Bus)
From Tokyo station (Bus terminal outside Yaesu South exit) you can catch a highway bus which dan take you to Suigo Itako Bus Terminal in 70 min (Bus terminal is 10 min drive away from city center).
Driving is also easy. Take the HIgashi Kanto Expressway (E51) to Itako IC (Approx 90 min).
From Tokyo, take the JR Sobu Honsen Line to Narita Sta. Then take the JR Narita Line to Sawara Sta. Then take the JR Kashima Line to Itako Sta (Approx 2h 30 min). *There area direct trains from Shinjuku in Tokyo to Itako during the iris festival.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.
To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.
Contributor: Angus Miyaji
Founder of Nearby Tokyo and Japan World Link, Angus helps visitors discover off the beaten track destinations in the North Kanto regions (Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki & Saitama north of Tokyo). He regularly travels between Japan and the UK promoting tourism and Japanese sake.