Kanamara Matsuri

Kanamara Matsuri
The Kanamara Matsuri is an annual Shinto festival held in the city of Kawasaki, Japan. The exact dates of the festival vary from year to year, but the main festivities are typically held on the first Sunday of April. The central theme of the event is the phallus.

Phallic symbols represent fertility in many cultures and Japan is no exception. Historically, phallus veneration was quite widespread in this country. There still are Shinto fertility shrines located throughout Japan. The Kanamara Matsuri is one of several fertility festivals held in these shrines. Another festival of this kind is the Hōnen Matsuri in Komaki.

The name of the festival literally translates as the “Festival of the Steel Phallus”. The name derives from a popular legend in the Ainu language. According to this legend, a jealous sharped-toothed demon fell in love with a young woman and hid inside her vagina. The demon bit off penises of two young men on their wedding nights. After that the woman went to a blacksmith and asked him to make an iron phallus. She inserted the phallus into her vagina and the demon broke his teeth and left her body.

The legendary phallus was enshrined at the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki. The shrine was popular among prostitutes who came there to pray for protection from sexually transmitted diseases. It is also believed to offer divine protections for marriage, easy pregnancy and delivery, and sexual performance. The Kanamara Matsuri originated during the Edo period between 1603 and 1868 but the festival in its modern form started in 1969.

The highlight of the festival is a mikoshi parade. A mikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine. It is a palanquin used to transport a deity from the main shrine to a temporary shrine or a new shrine. The Kanamara Matsuri has three mikoshi with giant penises of different sizes and colors. The largest one is pink. Both men and women who participate in the procession are dressed in women’s kimonos.

The central theme of the Kanamara Matsuri is also reflected in decorations, souvenirs, illustrations, and penis-shaped lollipops. There’s even a daikon-carving contest and large wooden penises that people can mount to take a picture. Today, the festival has become a major tourist attraction used to raise money for HIV awareness and research.

Kanamara Matsuri

Photo: David Shackelford




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