On June 5th, my wife and I cycled to Mizumoto Koen, our favorite park in Tokyo. Our reason for the 5th was the Katsushika Iris Festival 葛飾菖蒲まつり to be held until June 19th (Sunday).
We didn’t know exactly what to expect. While we were concerned that the area near the iris beds might be packed with people enjoying a flower festival after two years of cancellations across Japan, we were pleasantly surprised. There was a good but not overwhelming crowd and the flowers were ー as expected ー worth looking at.
Hydrangeas, called Ajisai in Japan, were also in full bloom. And water lily flowers were just beginning to appear. More than the usual number of cormorants were resting or preening at the bird sanctuary.
More than flowers
Aside from the flowers themselves, there were a number of attractions not typically part of the Mizumoto ambience.
A stage with live drummers and a flutist provided traditional music for a large number of dancers, mostly men and women in costume from the communities near the park. There were also some ad hoc participants from the audience.
Young women in very colorful kimonos posed in various spots that provided a scenic backdrop. Each was surrounded by at least twenty men, most with impressive camera gear, who had signed up for the photo shoot.
Street vendors and mobile food stalls, not typically found in Mizumoto, served long lines of hungry festivalgoers and provided trinkets and balloons for children.
Mizumoto Park is dog-friendly, although they must be kept on a leash. There are dog runs in the park.
What is planned
The June 12 schedule features an eclectic mix of hip-hop dancing by Katsushika area high school students and flower dancing.
Japanese drumming 和太鼓 will lead the special attractions on June 19, along with flower dance.
Products from Katsushika will be available on June 12th and 19th.
Groceries are available from a dozen stalls and vans. Still, it’s preferable to bring your own food unless you like standing in lines. The queues for these roving vendors can be quite long, as is the case at the small restaurant and takeaway in the park.
The area surrounding the park is residential. It is some distance from the nearest restaurants and grocery stores.
There is also a barbecue area in the park. Reservations are required.
Biking is the most convenient way to get to Mizumoto. The eastern edge of the park is bounded by the bike path on the west bank of the Edogawa River, while the western edge is a short ride from the bike path along Nakagawa.
During the Iris Festival, there is a shuttle bus service on the weekends of June 11-12 and June 18-19 (adult JPY 220, child JPY 110, day pass JPY 520/260). These operate on a route that connects 堀切菖蒲園 Horikiri Shoboen, しばられ地蔵 Shibare Jizo (5 minutes walk from Mizumoto), 金町駅 Kanamachi Station, 柴又帝釈天 Shibamata Taishakuten and 亀有駅 Kameari Station.
Regular buses from Kanamachi also stop near Mizumoto. And a shuttle bus (水元公園循環バス（金63) runs on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays with a stop a minute’s walk from the park’s iris beds.
Parking for 1170 cars is available at Mizumoto. But that can fill up quickly on weekends. And the narrow two-lane roads that serve the park will experience long traffic jams at the entrance at peak times.
Mizumoto is mostly flat, with most trails being paved or hard dirt. In my many visits to Mizumoto, I have always seen wheelchair users, both motorized and hand-driven.
Other iris viewing locations
Horikiri Iris Garden
The same shuttle bus that serves Mizumoto Koen also serves Horikiri Shobuen (Horikiri Iris Garden). It is a municipally managed garden on the site of a commercial garden, one of several such gardens that once existed in the area.
It is a 10-minute walk from Horikiri Shobuen Station on the Keisei Line. There is no entrance fee.
The garden is flat and well prepared for wheelchair users and strollers.
As the garden is dedicated to irises with 200 varieties and 6000 plants, it is an excellent place for flower photography. There is a wide variety of flowers to see.
Viewing the irises in the garden takes no more than an hour or so and can easily be combined with a visit to Shibamata, the funky and traditional location that was the start and end point of the hugely popular film series It’s hard being a man (Otoko ha tsurai yo).
Inner Garden at Meiji Shrine
While Mizumoto Park and Horikiri Garden showcase irises in a flat, open environment, more like paddy fields for rice, Meiji Shrine’s Inner Garden (Meiji Jingu) is something of a Japanese formal garden in which irises are displayed in a row of flower beds in a winding valley.
The beds are not wide. Close-up shots of flowers that aren’t immediately adjacent to the trails on either side of the valley require only a short telephoto lens.
The valley location gives an overall ambiance that we found more appealing than that at Mizumoto Park or Horikiri Garden.
Water lilies were also blooming during our visit to the garden pond and attracted almost as much attention as the iris.
It is a short walk to the Inner Garden from JR East Harajuku Station, which is located next to the main entrance to Meiji Shrine. Adults pay 500 JPY for admission.
The design of the inner garden makes it unsuitable for wheelchair users, although much of the rest of Meiji Shrine is wheelchair accessible.
This Japanese-style formal garden is best known for its exceptional fall colors. But it also has a small but attractive iris section that is currently in full bloom.
However, the iris beds are not in a valley like at Meiji Shrine. Instead, they are surrounded by very vibrant greenery. A wooden walkway on one side of the beds allows for close-ups and viewing of the flowers.
As this garden does not attract as many people as other gardens and parks during the iris season, more relaxed viewing and photography is possible.
Like the inner garden of Meiji Shrine, water lilies were in full bloom.w
Unfortunately, a large part of the garden is not suitable for wheelchair users.
Although the rainy season in Japan means unpredictable weather, it’s a great time for flowers, flower viewing, and flower photography.
Foggy or overcast days make photography easier. The lack of intense sunlight means a lack of extreme contrast and flare from looking the wrong way. Flowers and leaves glitter while still wet from a shower.
The waning of the pandemic means flower festivals, sometimes on a reduced scale, have been canceled for two years in a row.
In addition to the Katsushika Festival, the Hakusan Ajisai (Hydrangea) Festival is held with some restrictions. Known observation sites for hydrangeas have been included JAPAN Forward 2021 in “Ajisai: Colors and Patterns Illuminating Japan’s Rainy Season”.
Be it iris, hydrangea, lotus or other flowers, spring is a beautiful time in Japan. Just remember to have an umbrella or kappa (simple raincoat) handy. Usually the showers don’t last long and everything looks better afterwards.
Author: Earl H. Kinmonth
Photographs by EH Kinmonth. Find more stories about Tokyo and the surrounding area from Dr. Kinmonth with this link.