Kanamara Matsuri – The Festival of the Steel Phallus

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The Festival of the Steel Phallus or かなまら祭り (Kanamara Matsuri) is held at Kawasaki Shrine (Daishi). Oh boy, and is it ever 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.

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The Legend of the Steel Phallus

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. Suspicious of her, he decides to hide inside her vagina. Unknowingly, the woman tries to marry two young men, but is cursed by the devil. This is due to the fact that on each wedding night the demon bites off the penises of each husband. In desperation, the woman seeks help from a blacksmith. He forges a phallus made from iron 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 History of the Phallus Festival

The festival originally began in 1969 and has become synonymous with tourists from around the globe. Actually, all money raised from the event goes towards HIV research. In fact, 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

Follow the Mikoshi

In 2018 the festival was held on Sunday 1st of April. Subsequently, as we had arrived close to the scheduled start time of 11 am, it meant we joined the long, long line. The line itself seemed to be a predominantly foreigners, with perhaps only a handful of locals littered across the queue. 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. So, we eventually arrived at the shrine in about 25 minutes time.

Inside the shrine you need to weave through the crowds to reach any one of the many stalls. Here you will find stands selling various penis-related 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 (portable shrines) head out of the shrine and spill onto the road. From there they get carried down to the nearby Daishi Park.

In the meantime, you can follow the mikoshi’s or you can make your own way down towards Kawasaki Daishi. This is 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.

Resting in the Park

Finally, the penis mikoshi’s will be taken down and placed to rest at Daishi Park. While they are on display, they will be available for the obligatory selfies and also appreciated by various onlookers. Among the stands scattered around the park, you can also find a large range of festival merchandise. These include Phallus shaped candies and more food and drinks (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 definitely 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, even though so many attended the event.

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