**Beware: There is a good amount of reference to genitalia in this one.**
Today, with a Canadian and a Japanese friend, I went to the Kanamara Matsuri. It is a festival to celebrate fertility, only found at the Kanayama Shrine, in the area just south of Tokyo in Japan. From what I understand, the story/legend goes to a young, beautiful woman whom a demon fancied. She denied the demon, and so, he decided to hide inside her vagina, in order to prevent her from having any man. On her wedding night, the demon bit off the penis of her now-husband, preventing them from consummating their marriage. On her second attempt at marriage and consummation, the same event occurred. So, for her third marriage, the woman worked with a blacksmith to fashion a metal penis. Upon insertion, the demon bit the metal phallus, broke all of his teeth, and left the woman. Said phallus is now enshrined at the Kanayama Shrine. People go to this shrine to pray for fertility, protection from STDs and the likes, family, safe pregnancy and delivery, and blacksmiths.
So, every year, on the first Sunday of April, right at the usual time for the Cherry Blossom Season (though it is a bit early for the blossoms this year), the Kanamara Matsuri (Kanamara Festival) takes place at the Kanayama Shrine in Kanagawa, Japan.
Originally, when it started back in 1969, it was Japanese people. However, after a foreigner university professor attended the festival, that professor shared about the festival enough to bring it greater attention – so much so, that the festival is mostly foreigners now. It actually felt like a sort of adventure outside of Japan for a day – Japanese scenery, customs, and decorations, but very little spoken Japanese, and very few Japanese people.
The festival is very popular for the trans-gender, homosexual, etc. community, and so many of the attendees today were visually part of that community. Kimonos were offered to borrow free of charge to visitors to the festival, and so my Japanese friend and I went and allowed the ladies at the kimono place to dress us up. When I asked for a men’s kimono, the lady gave a slight chuckle, and then rushed back to the fabrics and picked out one for me, clearly comfortable with the request. It was the same with my Japanese friend and her dresser, so this clearly was not simply because I’m a gaijin (foreigner) and am, therefore, weird – I imagine it is because of the Kanamara Matsuri that the ladies were so comfortable with the requests. I noticed several Japanese men wearing women’s kimonos, and everyone was fine with it. And so, we got to be dressed as Okappiki, old-timey Japanese police men. It was great.
For the parade, the gods from the shrine, as usual, are summoned to the mikoshi, the portable altars, so to speak, in a little ceremony with bells and music and other traditional details, just before the parade begins. Usually the mikoshi are not phalli, but this festival is all about the metal phallus made by that blacksmith way back when, so… there are three large penises that are carried around the neighborhood. The first is a smallish wooden one, with the metal phallus on the front of it. The second is a large black one, possibly made of stone (I couldn’t quite tell). And the third is a huge, Pepto-Bismol pink one, carried each year by men in drag. The three altars seem like floats in US parades, but, instead of being on top of cars to have them move, they are carried by groups of people, typically men, though also women. So, as the parade moves along, you have a chant of “Ka-na-ma-ra!” going, while three incredibly different and large floating penises bounce along the crowded streets.
One of the hits of the festival is the penis pops. While there are chocolate-covered bananas,
and meat-wrapped sticks of rice,
carved wooden penis whistles (which actually had a rather high, unappealing pitch),
and t-shirts galore with cartoon penises and the name Dankon, a term for penis (literally “man-root”),
the reason people will stand hours in line is for the one-day-only penis lollipops.
There were even some vagina ones, too, but the main thing was the penis pops. I had read up on the festival a bit ahead of time, and so I knew to arrive at 9am, and to go straight for the lollipops.
A really fun bit for me was actually the penis candles and the daikon carving. Just after saying our prayers at the shrine, we found the daikon radishes, but the carving was finished. However, the old ladies who seemed to be in charge of it were quick to hand us already-carved daikon and ask for our cameras. They even helped us with the correct way to pose with the daikon penises (I was a bit unsure initially, but they made it quite clear what was “the way” to do it.).
The candles were quick and simple – a table covered in small and large penis-shaped candles in various colors. I wanted a pretty purple one for myself, but the guy next to me snatched up all the purple ones for some reason – guess he just really wanted them. So, I found myself happy with a blue-ish purple one instead, which seemed to be the only one of its specific hue. (Naturally, I loved that.)
Now, I really expected this festival to be completely against the Japanese style of things, however it was really beautiful seeing how many Japanese people were there, not only participating in it for themselves, but embracing it as part of humanity’s culture. Though it is essentially a fundraiser for HIV research, and thereby a grounds for self-expression in the LGBTetc. community, there were many people, families even, who seemed to be 100% heterosexual, white rice, Japanese folks. And yes, there were plenty of families, which includes small children. One of the best moments was coming across a group of four little girls all sitting on a curb, casually and delightedly enjoying their penis pops, while their parents stood nearby. And the parents were completely okay with people photographing their kids, a concept often somewhat foreign to Japanese people. Today was just filled with openness and acceptance and joy on the part of everyone, and it was fabulous.
When we were heading out from the festivities, we discovered even more food stalls and other standard matsuri stalls in an area with another shrine and temple. We said some more prayers, tossed some more coins, and poured water over a statue in thanks for the blessing of blooming flowers each Spring. On a final walk down a way-cool traditional street of shops, we found loads more penis pops (along with standard regional treats), gifts, and tokens.
I got myself a small crystal quartz necklace, and it is quite beautiful, actually.
As a final fun note, while we were initially heading down that last street, a group of Japanese who were around our ages, were walking right near us (with no one else nearby), and so I found myself laughing as a few of them were goofing off, dancing to no music while one of them recorded the fun nonsense. When one of the guys stopped and posed with some statues, all three of us laughed. No one, however, had had a camera out, and the guy hadn’t expected a photo to be taken. But, when one of the girls joked with him about taking a photo, he asked if he should go back. His friends were a bit hesitant to answer, but my friend was quick to tell him to go back really quickly, because she wanted a photo, even if they didn’t. When he squat back down with the dogs(?), holding his pink lollipop, he told me to get in the photo with him. He tried sharing his lollipop with me, but one of the girls decided it was better for the photo if we each had our own, and so she lent me hers. And so, a random guy and I posed on the ground with dog statues and colored penis lollipops. EditNormal day in the neighborhood, right? 😛
Anyway, that’s about all I have to say about that right now…. Go check it out for yourself, if you’re ever in Japan in early April! It’s one-of-a-kind, and it’s delightfully wonderful! 🙂