Mary King gets the ins and outs of Kawasaki'
annual fertility festival
Spring is in the air, and
perhaps the joys of the season in the Kanto region are nowhere more lusciously expressed
than in Kawasaki Daishi, Kanagawa Prefecture, which is bracing itself for its annual
phallic festival. Shinto offers more titillating tumescent thrills than most world
religions, as the Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) this year on Mar 31 and
April Fool's Day proves.
Sexually transmitted diseases spurred the popularization of phallic symbols in some of
Japan's festivals dedicated to the male member, such as this one dating back to the Edo
period (1603-1867). At that time, Kawasaki's "ladies of the night" prayed not
only that business would be brisk, but for protection from syphilis. Come cherry blossom
time, they gathered baskets of bamboo shoots and other sprouting delicacies, carried the
shrine's phallic image in procession through the streets, and then sat down to a merry
banquet on mats spread out on the courtyard of Kanamara Shrine.
With the spread of syphilis now curbed, participants in the modern
festival solicit donations for HIV/AIDS research. Today, the highlights of this saucy
festival include transvestites parading through the town's streets carrying a mikoshi
(portable shrine) with a humungous pink phallus on top. And, if that's not guaranteed to
make you blush as deeply as the surrounding cherry blossoms, then the spectacle of
grandmas and grandpas sucking on carnal candy and sweetmeat replicas of this stupendous
phallus, is more than likely to.
Other attractions include locals carving penises out of daikon (radish), children
and young women sitting astride penis-shaped seesaws for good luck and fertility
blessings, as well as a seated banquet in the compound of Kanamara Jinja (aka Wakamiya
Hachiman-gu shrine) where the phallic radishes are auctioned. All are welcome to take part
in the festival's parade and banquet, which includes dancing and karaoke singing. Many
revelers, Japanese and foreigners alike, turn out in kimono, Edo period attire or drag for
this two-day event of phallic fun which is also attended by many of the area's community
leaders and civic dignitaries.
|Miko dancing at Karamara Shrine
Hirohiko Nakamura, the chief
priest at his family shrine says, "Whether your prayers be for prosperity, healthy
offspring, a fertile marriage, wedded bliss, an uncomplicated delivery or personal health,
this shrine remains the focus of community faith, as it has been for centuries.
"Shinto is traditionally non-judgmental in the matter of individual sexual behavior,
and my family's shrine has long served as a place of help and a refuge to those suffering
from sexually transmitted diseases. What could be more natural, then, that the shrine
would embrace those who are concerned with the spread of HIV and AIDS," says
A cock and bull story
Thirty-six year-old Australian Nick Rowthorn, who attended last year's festival with his
Japanese boyfriend Yoshi, said the festival was the wildest thing he'd ever seen.
"I'm really impressed to see that the Japanese don't have the same hang-ups about sex
and sexuality that you generally find in the West. I just can't image a bunch of drag
queens turning up for a Christian religious festival in Australia. It's great," he
said, playfully licking the red-headed lollipop he'd bought from one of the stalls in the
Religion and sex have a long history of comfortable coexistence in Japan. This is clearly
implied even in the national creation myths in which the kami, or central male
and female deities - Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto - are said to have stirred
the primordial muck with a "heavenly jeweled spear" before creating the island
of Onogoro. The couple then descended from the heavens and married, with Izanami giving
birth to Japan's islands as well as its many gods.
|Sucker for souvenirs
And, according to such
ancient chronicles as the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) that relates the
national mythology, the goddess Amenouzume no Mikoto flashed her sexual organs at the
other kami, or divinities, in their cosmic abode. Curious about the resulting commotion,
the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu (who had plunged the world into darkness by cloistering herself
in a cave), peered out from her hiding place, caught her reflection in a mirror, and was
abducted from her refuge, an act that restored light to the world.
The Kanamara Festival kicks off with a Night Ceremony at the shrine on the evening of Mar
31 (6-6:20pm). On Apr 1, the festival will start again with the burning of a sacred fire
at 11am. The main ceremony starts at 11:15am. Expect a full day of fun.
From Shinagawa take a Keihin Kyuko (red) train towards Yokohama. Get off at Keikyu
Kawasaki stn, go down the stairs and take a Daishi Line train three stops to Kawasaki
Daishi stn. From there, walk across the street and you'll find Kanamara Shrine (Wakamiya
Hachiman-gu shrine) just a few meters down on the right. From JR Kawasaki stn take the No.
23 bus for Daishi and get off at Wakamiya Hachiman-gu shrine. Contact Kanamara Shrine
(Wakamiya Hachiman-gu Shrine) on Tel: 044-222-3206 or Fax: (044-233-3060).