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Kanamara Matsuri, Japan Penis Festival, 2023
The Japan Penis Festival is arguably the country’s most amusing event when tens of thousands of revellers roam the streets of Kawasaki in April to pay tribute to fertility in an age-old ritual, amidst thousands of phalluses of all sizes, shapes and colours.
Kanamara Matsuri means Festival of the Steel Phallus and is becoming more and more popular every year amongst Japanese and foreigners alike, to whom it is more commonly known as the Japan Penis Festival. The modern day purpose of the event is to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and to promote safe sex, but its rituals and practices betray ties to Japan’s traditional religion of Shinto.
Central to the festival is a big mikoshi parade where human-sized phalluses are carried in divine palanquins (mikoshis) to the Kanayama temple. What makes this event so special, particularly in today’s divided world, is that it’s all inclusive and everyone participates in it, from families, toddlers and the elderly, to youth in traditional dress, foreign visitors and local Japanese drag queens.
For other Asian fertility festivals, head to Thailand for the Phi Ta Khon or Ghost Festival, and Bun Bai Fai or Rocket Festival Thailand.
The parade’s popular mikoshis include the Kanamara Fune and Big Kanamara both of which contain large, traditional phallus sculptures made respectively of steel and wood. The Elizabeth mikoshi, named after the local drag queen club, contains the largest phallus and, with its bold pink colour, is quite impossible to ignore.
Once a phallus is erected at the temple, people pray against sexually transmitted diseases, for help in conceiving a child, or for a satisfied partner. Expect young and old, men and women, licking candy penises, posing for pictures on large, wooden phalluses, learning the art of carving vegetables into penis shapes, dress like phalluses, and other penile fun – all in good faith and humour. For the over-zealous, there’s a traditional, low-alcohol sweet drink called amazake which, combined with eating a mandatory small dried fish, mimics the taste and texture of semen – according to those in the know.
Legend and Significance of Kanamara Matsuri, or the Japan Penis Festival
The steel phallus reportedly originates from the Edo period (1603 – 1868) when, according to local legend, a demon became smitten with a lady but couldn’t bear watching her falling in love with anyone else. The logical thing for him to do then was to hide in the lady’s vagina and bite off any lover’s penis the moment it entered her. As this inconvenience kept on occurring with every new candidate she tried to sleep with, the lady had a steel penis made by a local smith on which the demon broke his teeth and then fled. All’s well that ends well.
Today, at the courtyard of the Kanayama temple, a holy, one-metre-tall steel phallus is displayed to honour fertility, childbearing and to ask for protection against STDs. Over time, prostitutes came to pray at the temple until it eventually became a tourist attraction in the seventies.
During the last decade the Japan Penis Festival has increased a lot in popularity and keeps on expanding. The profit of the phallus-shaped items for sale goes to research of HIV and other STDs. The festival’s paraphernalia are very popular, from plenty of candy and other food items to t-shirts and large carrots carved into phalluses that can be carried on the shoulder in a small mikoshi. If you want to get your hands on your own phallus souvenir then it’s best to go early as they are very popular and go quickly.
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When and where does the Japan Penis Festival take place?
It takes place every year during the first Sunday of April, which falls on 2 April in 2023. This is also the period of the famous cherry blossom season Japan and a time of the year that marks many beginnings, from the new school year to starting another job and the financial year. Many festivals in Japan begin around this time.
Kawasaki is one of the cities forming the Greater Tokyo Area and is located about one hour south of central Tokyo. Most of the Japan Penis Festival events take place in and around the city’s Kanayama temple which is a five minutes walk from Kawasaki-Daishi Station. Alternatively, follow anyone who’s dressed like a phallus.
Accommodation during Kanamara Matsuri in Japan
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Cover image by Rαge – Wikimedia Commons. Article Updated 25 February 2023.