Last Sunday, the streets of Kawasaki, Japan were filled with penises. The reason? To celebrate the world-famous Kanamara Matsuri or the Japan Penis Festival. A festival which celebrates penises.
As hilarious as this sounds, this festivity holds great importance in Japan and is immensely cherished by the people who commemorate it with fervour and ebullience.
What is the Japan Penis Festival?
The annual Japan Penis Festival, held in Kawasaki in April, is a traditional celebration of fertility that attracts thousands of people from around the world. The festival is known for its numerous representations of phalluses, which come in a variety of colours, sizes, and shapes, that are displayed and paraded through the streets of the city. The event is considered by many to be the most entertaining and amusing in the country.
Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki plays host to the Kanamara Matsuri, commonly known as the "Penis Festival" or "Festival of the Steel Phallus", which is an annual event held on the first Sunday of April. Initially, a small celebration when it first began in 1978, it went relatively unnoticed until people started uploading videos of a large phallic structure being carried down the streets. Since then, the event, known for its highly unique nature, has grown in popularity with a total estimated attendance of about 30,000, many of whom are foreigners and tourists.
The festival's centrepiece is a mikoshi parade, where divine palanquins, known as mikoshis, are used to carry human-sized phalluses to the Kanayama temple. This inclusive event is exceptional today, as everyone is welcome to participate, including families, young and old, visitors from abroad, and even Japanese drag queens. Many are dressed in traditional attire, and the parade boasts diverse attendees.
After a phallus is raised at the temple, individuals offer prayers to prevent sexually transmitted illnesses, seek assistance in conceiving a child, or request pleasure from their partner.
The contemporary objective of the occasion is to increase knowledge and understanding about sexually transmitted diseases and encourage the practice of safe sex. However, it follows Shinto rites and customs, Japan's ancient religion.
The mikoshis featured in the parade consist of two prominent ones, namely the Kanamara Fune and Big Kanamara, which have large, traditional phallic sculptures constructed out of steel and wood respectively. Another one is the Elizabeth Mikoshi, named after a drag queen club in the area, which carries the biggest phallus and is quite noticeable due to its daring pink colour.
The urban legend behind the Japan Penis Festival
During the Edo period (1603-1868), an urban legend tells how a demon fell in love with a woman, but could not bear to watch her fall in love with another man. The demon hid in the woman's vagina and would bite off any lover's penis that entered her. In response to this inconvenience, the woman had a steel penis crafted by a local blacksmith that the demon broke his teeth on and then fled. This ended the demon's reign of terror on the woman's love life.