Yesterday was interesting to say the least. Many months ago my mother shared with me an article about a Japanese “fertility” festival, where giant phalluses are paraded through the streets in celebration. Then the other day, one of my friends here mentioned that it was coming up soon, so I did some research and discovered that it occurs on the first Sunday of every April. So I knew what I was doing with my Sunday.
The festival “Kanamara Matsuri” was held at the phallus-shaped Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Japan – about an hour away from where I live. So I hopped on the train and made my way without too much difficulty. One of the websites I had visited advised to just “follow the crowds” and indeed, that’s what I did.
The entrance to the festival was very clearly marked out by colourful banners, spread along the shrine gates.
Known as the Festival of the Steel Phallus, many of the participants pray to a god of fertility for sexual prosperity and protection from infections. One area of the shrine hosted the steel phallus itself, surrounded by dozens of personal prayer plaques.
Another major attraction of the festival is the multitude of genitalia-themed foods and souvenirs. Vendors filled the area, selling a variety of penis-pops, sausages, and other suggestively shaped foods. There was even an auction of carved turnips.
I was also just in time to catch the end of the parade which involved a large group of people carrying two enshrined phalluses through the streets, culminating in a ceremony at the shrine.
Although I didn’t understand a word of what was said during the ceremony, there was a lot of cheering and chanting which made the whole thing quite a sight.
After the ceremony, things seemed to calm down a little, so I decided to take a stroll around the neighbourhood. The festival seemed to stretch across several blocks,with vendors selling fertility-themed foods and candies in almost every store I passed.
The The celebrations even seemed to continue on the grounds of another temple complex, where there were many food stalls and picnic tables right alongside the shrines. I still find it a little weird, seeing food stalls and open alcohol inside a temple area, but it seems to be a fairly common situation in Japan, so I guess I’ll just have to get used to it. I absolutely loved the temple area though, and enjoyed the quite deprive it offered from the more rambunctious activities back at the Kanayama Shrine.
During my wanderings, I even happened to make a couple of friends, and we proceeded spend the rest of the afternoon together exploring the area.
I must say, it was a throughly bizarre experience, but one I enjoyed immensely. At times, it was nearly impossible to stop myself from bursting out in fits of giggles, (like when I passed by a group of elderly ladies all sucking contentedly on realistic looking penis lollypops), but I was certainly not the only one struggling to control my laughter.
It seemed like the festival was actually more popular with tourists than with the locals, at least, it seemed to be marketed that way. The ceremony definitely had a more serious tone to it though, with many locals dressed in traditional costume, and following some sort of procession.
All in all, it was an interesting mix of tradition and tourist, which culminated in a truly unique Japan experience, which I will not be forgetting any time soon.