The idea of a penis festival may sound ludicrous, but actually, it's a Shinto religious tradition many conservative Japanese folks take seriously. So there's a solemn aspect to it, but you can also have fun there! The central aspect of the festival is watching the mikoshi floats carrying giant phalli. It's a kind of fertility festival.
Where Does The Tradition Come From?
As is often the case, "matsuri" festivals in Japan are centered around a Shinto shrine. In Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo, there is the Kanayama (金山) shrine which encompasses in its premises the Wakamiya Hachimangu (若宮八幡宮), a kind of secondary inner shrine dedicated to the goddess of creation Izanami, which is one of the most important deities of the Shinto religion. When she gave birth to her son Kagutsuchi, the god of fire, she burnt her reproductive organs and died. The Wakaiya Hachimangu is a shrine hence that is dedicated to sexual health. From the Edo Era, people prayed at that shrine to recover from STDs which were very prevalent in Japan at the time.
The Penis Festival From 1969 In Kawasaki
Although the praying at the shrine goes way back centuries ago, the festival only started in 1969. Kanamara (金まら) literally means steal phallus. It symbolizes protection from STDs, but also more broadly fertility and sexual harmony in a couple.
It is held annually in Kawasaki, in Kanagawa Prefecture, at the Kanayama shrine. The nearest station is Minatocho. From Tokyo, it takes about one hour to get there.
Kanayama Shrine: 2-13-16 Daishi Ekimae, Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture
Date: Held on every first Sunday of the month of April. The 2018 edition will be held on April 1st.
Time: From 10:15AM - 4:30PM
How To Enjoy It?
Over the years, the matsuri has become very festive and inclusive. People of all ages and sexual orientations participate and tourists are also very welcomed. It has become a huge event attracting about 50,000 people every year. The highlight of the event is to watch the mikoshis, which is basically portable shires. There are three main ones.
The first one to appear is the black metal phallus.
Next will be the wooden one.
And the last one to appear a pink, carried by a group of cross-dressers. They collect donations and the proceeds go towards HIV/AIDS research.
You won't be seeing penises just on the mikoshi. You'll have the chance to buy all kinds of phallus-shaped goods.
Candles are popular things to get.
And you can also get yourself an omamori (お守り) which is a kind of amulet you can get at shrines.
It wouldn't be a matsuri without the food, you can be sure that they'll be food stalls.
The food you can get is unlike anything offered at other festivals! This dish is called oden. It has unusual chunks of daikon radish, to say the least. If you're wondering, here is where you can get great oden in Tokyo.
Candies and many more things are sold. So if you can, make your way to Kawasaki for the next Kanamara matsuri and enjoy this really unique festival.
If you're in Tokyo, Kawasaki isn't very far so that could make a good spring activity if you are in the capital.