By MIYA HUANG
The pink penis sculpture (mikoshi) named “Elizabeth”. Photo by Stealth3327 (Wikimedia Commons)
You read it right. It is a festival about “penis.” There are penis sculptures, penis masks, penis-themed T-shirts, penis-shaped candies, rice sticks, chocolate bananas, et cetera. You might find it disgusting at first and think it is just another bizarre Japanese thing. Actually, this festival is much more meaningful and complicated than it seems.
The official name for the Penis Festival is Kanamara Matsuri. It is held annually on the first Sunday of April in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture. The first time I saw videos about the Matsuri, I thought I was watching a X-rated film. Nevertheless, after going to the festival on April 2, 2017, I realized it is just like any other Japanese festivals. My friends and I enjoyed the nice music with our drinks and food. We watched the penis parade (Mikoshi parade), in which men and women carried penis sculptures to Kanayama Shrine, while eating our candies in the shape of a penis. There were not only adults but also kids and elderlies. The only difference was that everything was in the shape of a phallus or some modification of it. It was fun.
Where did this weird festival come from? One of the legends says the ancient Japanese goddess Izanami's lower body got seriously injured after giving birth to a fire god. Kanayamahiko and Kanayamahime, the gods of mining and blacksmith who are now enshrined in Kanayama shrine, healed Izanami. Since then, the two gods became known as the gods of childbirth and healing of lower body. Gradually, people start to worship them as fertility gods.
Another legend tells that a devil fell in love with a lady and hid inside her vagina. Using his sharp teeth, the devil twice bit off her newlywed husband’s penis. Out of desperation, the lady asked a blacksmith to make a steel penis. The devil broke its teeth after attempting to bite the metal penis and left the lady’s body. The great steel penis was then enshrined in the Kanayama shrine.
There are also historical reasons behind this festival. In the 17th century, Kawasaki was a stop for people who traveled from Kyoto to Tokyo. There were teahouses which not only sold food and drinks, but also the service of prostitutes. Kanayama shrine was a popular place among the prostitutes to pray for good business and protection from sexually-transmitted diseases.
Today the purpose of the festival has evolved to praying for fertility, safe childbirth, long-lasting marriage and even to raise funds for HIV research. Moreover, it brings people from all around the world to relax and have fun under the cherry blossom trees on this day.
Japanese often give people an impression of being conservative and introverted. However, the penis festival reveals the lively and open side of Japan. As long as you do not judge the seemingly-disgusting image of the festival, you will definitely enjoy the festival.
Kanamara matsuri is not the only festival related to the penis. There is an annual phallus festival in Greek city Tyrnavos on the first day of Lent, and a penis-shaped bread is served. In the northern part of Nagoya, there is an annual Honen Matsuri (Harvest Festival) in March, in which a huge wooden penis is carried from one shrine to another with women in kimono sitting on it.