The Festival of the Steel Phallus or かなまら祭り (Kanamara Matsuri) held at Kawasaki Shrine (Daishi), is one of the more interesting and bizarre festivals that runs through the spring season. Occurring around the same time as Hanami hits Tokyo, it is the celebration of the penis in all of its venerating glory.
The Kanamara Matsuri is centred on a local penis shrine. The tale begins with a jealous sharp-toothed demon, who falls in love with a young woman, and decides to hide inside her vagina. Unknowingly, the woman tries to marry two young men but is cursed by the devil, as on each wedding night the demon bites off the penises of each husband. In desperation, the woman seeks help from a blacksmith, who forged a phallus made from iron in an attempt to shatter the demon’s teeth. This led to the enshrinement of the ‘Steel Phallus’ and its ability to bless anyone who worships and attends this festival.
The festival originally began in 1969 and has become synonymous with tourists from around the globe. All money raised from the event goes towards HIV research and the event itself is also particularly sought after by people who seek:
- protection from STIs
- business success
- a prosperous marriage
- a safe and healthy pregnancy
In 2018 the festival was held on Sunday 1st of April, and arriving anywhere near the scheduled start time of 11 am meant lining up among what seemed to be a predominantly foreigner only event. The line itself winded along several intersections, some 300 metres or more away from the actual entrance to the initial venue at Kanayama Shrine. However, the line moved along fairly speedily, and we eventually arrived at the shrine in about 25 minutes time.
Inside the shrine you needed to weave through the crowds to reach any one of the many stalls, selling various items from food to t-shirts, beer and more. You can also see the various Phallus shrines on display before they depart for the roads outside. At around 12 pm, the mikoshi’s head out of the shrine and out into the road where they will be carried all the way out to the nearby Daishi Park.
In the meantime, you can follow the mikoshi’s down towards Kawasaki Daishi, the main temple in the area. Here the place has toilets, and a plethora of stands full of food, drinks and activities too. This is a great place for an initial stopover, before making your way to the final destination.
In the end, the penis mikoshi’s are placed to rest at Daishi Park, available for the obligatory selfies and to be appreciated by onlookers. Among the stands scattered around the park, you can also find a large range of festival merchandise, Phallus shaped candies and more food and drink (alcohol included).
The event makes for an interesting day out, full of the traditional Japanese vibe and flavour from your standard festival. Yet, with the added spice of penis inspired memorabilia, food and of course the large steel Phallus shrines, it provides a fascinating taste of Japan’s lesser-known and unspoken culture. However, due to some of the imagery used, you may deem it as inappropriate for children.