Whether it is a stroll along Harajuku, a lunch at character café or a visit to a public festival you are never short of coming across something quirky and bizarre when traveling in Japan. Today was not an exception as my friends and I headed out to take part in Kanamaru Matsuri, or the “Festival of the Steel Phallus.” Known colloquially as the “Penis Festival”, this annual celebration of fertility is held in Kanayama Shrine on the first Sunday of April. The moment you approach the shrine you know you are at the right place. Festive signage adorns the grounds, while number of souvenir stalls sells penis-themed knickknacks. The most popular item was definitely the penis (and vagina) shaped lollipops. Although nothing could beat the sight of three large phallic portable shrines (mikoshi) that are carried throughout the streets in a parade at noon. The pink one is called Elizabeth and has been donated by a drag queen club of the same name. Despite the nasty rainy weather the festival gathered crowds of locals as well as tourists enthusiastic to pose in front of the giant phalli. The ceremony started with a Shinto ritual where the priest blessed the statues in order to “transfer” the Gods from the shrine to the mikoshi. The statues are then carried around the neighborhood to another shrine before they are returned back to Kanayama Shrine.
According to the legend, the Great Steel Phallus was constructed to exorcise a demon from a young woman’s vagina. He had lodged himself there after she refused his romances, and used his sharp teeth to bite off the penis of any man who was brave enough to make love to her. A local blacksmith forged a steel phallus and upon its insertion, the demon’s teeth were broken and he finally left the woman’s vagina. Kanamara Matsuri commemorates this legend while Kanayama Shrine was constructed to honor the Shinto deities of childbirth and lower abdomen health. The shrine became renowned as a site for sex workers to pray for protection against STDs. Nowadays the shrine is said to aid fertility, while the festival itself exudes acceptance and welcomes people of any sexuality. Well, if you want to get a unique insight into Japanese culture and experience something unique (after all, how often do you get to see the veneration of the life-creating male sex organ?!) Kanamara Matsuri is definitely worth visiting.
P.S. Now I just wonder what sort of traffic my blog will attract after this post….
Plan to arrive early (10 a.m.) to be able to buy one of those popsicles as they tend to sell out pretty fast. You also will get a better chance to find a good spot for viewing the parade before it starts at 12:00 PM.
Address: 2-13-16 Daishi Ekimae, Kawasaki Ward, Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture
Train station: Kawasaki-Daishi train station on the Keikyu Daishi Line. South exit.