Springtime is a lovely time of year. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and there is a penis festival in Japan that is a must. While some might say, “Why does Japan need to have a penis festival every year?” Japan says, “Why not?”
How does a penis festival begin? According to the BBC, legend has it that in the 17th century, prostitutes would pray to the Kanamara shrine in Kawasaki for protection from sexually transmitted infections. If only you could just pray an STI away!
Another story is the tale of the fabled woman who had “vagina dentata,” or a toothed vagina. The legend says that the cursed woman with the toothed vagina would accidentally castrate young men. She went to see a blacksmith who made her an iron dildo in order to break the teeth of her vagina to protect her future suitors. The Kanamara shrine is dedicated to the blacksmith, and for centuries sex workers have paid homage to the shrine in order to seek protection.
Over the years, their praying eventually turned into the Kanamara Matsuri, the “Festival of the Steel Phallus. Today, the festival is a celebration that honors the penis and fertility. Sure, it’s fun to laugh at a penis festival, but it is more than just that. [Editor's note: The same could be said of the actual penis.]
The festival is a celebration and prayer for fertility, healthy births and long-lasting relationships. It also raises awareness about safe-sex practices and fundraises for AIDS prevention. As if we needed more of a reason to participate than just a whole bunch of penises.
During the festival, people carry an altar with penis-shaped portable Shinto shrines called mikoshi. Then there is a parade where both men and women dress up in women’s kimonos and carry wooden penises. You will also see a range of people from all different ages seeking cures for impotence and infertility.
The night before the festival, ying/yang-shaped rice treats are grilled for everyone to eat. Yin represents female energy, while yang represents the male. Then, the next morning, a bonfire is lit and the festival has officially begun.
After a short Shinto ceremony, dried sardines and Japanese sake are served and are meant to bring good fortune. At noon, the omikoshi, a giant pink penis altar, is carried toward the Kanamara shrine in order to kick off the parade.
Then it is time for the afternoon penis parade. You’ll see people dancing in the streets, dressed in pink, and there are penises galore. The festivities end with a radish-carving competition, a costume parade and then finally a feast. Any money raised from the event go toward HIV research.
But if you came just to see a whole bunch of things shaped like penises, than you won’t go home disappointed. You will see penis hats, penis candles, penis puppets, penis floats, penis costumes and penis lollipops. Some of the penis-shaped statues are big enough to be straddled.
You will see penises made of iron, wood and plastic. They will be in all shapes and sizes, and by the end, you’ll see so many wangs, you will forget that you are even looking at genitalia. An old lady in a giant penis hat will look like any old granny to you in the end.
If this seems out of character for Japanese culture, well it is. Japanese people are usually reserved, but when it comes to expressing themselves, their culture believes in one big release as opposed to lots of little ones. Go big or go home, I suppose.