Japan Folklore: Kanamara Matsuri

Kanamara Matsuri

Photo credits: pictureasiastudio.wordpress.com

The festival of the “Steel Phallus”

The Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り) is often welcomed by foreigners as yet another quirk from Japan, but in fact, the origins of this festival are very old and they are related to Shinto religion.

It all began in the Edo period, in 1603, when the town of Kawasaki was the destination for travelers who found their enjoyment in tea houses and, in private, entertained themselves with prostitutes. Prostitutes that used to visit the Kanayama temple to pray for protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

There is also a legend that revolves around the name of the Kanamara Matsuri, according to which a demon with sharp teeth lived in the vagina of a young girl. Any man who had intimate relations with her ended up irreparably castrated. Her husband too fell victim of the demon on the first wedding night and the girl, now desperate, asked for help to a blacksmith. The man forged an iron phallus that broke the demon’s teeth and freed the woman from the curse. To celebrate, a small Shinto temple was erected becoming the place where the iron phallus is still venerated today.

The tradition was lost in late 1800s but, in the 1970s, chief priest Hirohiko Nakamura decided to revive the lost festival.

For centuries, the Kanayama temple has been the place where couples pray for a child, or where to pray for luck in business, an easy delivery or simply family harmony.

Photo credits: matome.naver.jp

3 Mikoshi and no preconcept

Every year, on the first Sunday of April, priests of the Kanayama Jinja in Kawasaki organize this festival.

The parade opens up with a shinto ceremony at the shrine where sake and fried fish are distributed to all visitors as a wish for good luck. Finally, the big pink penis placed on an altar is brought to the temple. At this point, the parade actually starts following three mikoshi, each containing a huge phallus. The first one stands erect and is made of a polished black metal. The second is an old wooden one, ancient and gnarled, and both are transported by carriers of the shrine who sing along the procession. The third one is entrusted to a joso group: they are members of a cross-dressing club called Elizabeth Kaikan. Its members, with their bright make-up and colored wigs, move the mikoshi in the air preening for the cameras.

After the parade, everyone gather to enjoy street-food, sexual-themed competitions and the cheerful atmosphere. Among the proposed challenges there is the sculpture contest, with sculpture that must have a phallic shape of course, or a rodeo with a big rotating penis. The festival is attended both by locals and tourists that, for the occasion, leave aside all taboos. The great majority of people wear all sorts of extravagant things, as fake penis-noses, while eating foods of the same shape.

We can also come across young women posing for photos while riding on swings that for the occasion have the shape of wooden penises.

This Festival, still loyal to its origins, celebrates sexual awareness and the prosperity of the whole community donating all the proceeds to HIV research.

Photo credits: flickr.com