Japanese festivals are fascinating and some can be rather strange! I had first heard about the Kanamara Matsuri「かなまら祭り」 several years ago and finally had the opportunity to go check it out this year!
This Shinto festival is centred around the male reproductive organ and is also known as the “Festival of the Steel Phallus”.
According to legend, a sharp-toothed demon hid inside the vagina of a young woman and castrated her husbands when they tried to have sex with her on their wedding nights (i.e. these were on two separate occasions). As a result, the young woman sought help from a blacksmith, who created a steel phallus to break the demon’s teeth when it bit down on the steel penis and thus saved her future husband(s) from suffering a similar fate as the first two.
The Kanayama Shrine「金山神社」 was popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) but these days, most people visit the shrine to pray for prosperity in their businesses, marriage, fertility and smooth delivery.
Over time, the festival has become somewhat of a tourist attraction and is now used to bring awareness to STDs in general and raise funds for HIV research.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side and even though it was a cold and wet day, the crowds still thronged the festival venue. Wow! That really tells how much drawing power this festival has!
There was a long queue snaking from the shrine towards direction of the train station and we learnt that it would take about 1.5 hours to enter (or so many people thought) – it wasn’t until much later that we realised this queue was actually for one of the candy stalls at the festival! (you can see one of the confectionery items which a lady in the crowd was eating in the picture below)
I decided to find an alternative way to enter the festival venue and did a walk around the block to the other side of the shrine and found many people entering and exiting from there! Human traffic was also being controlled (or re-directed) around the area.
It took about 15min before I managed to step into the festival grounds but it was a tight squeeze to try to look around as many people had congregated in the area, thus this meant more people were entering the premises instead of exiting! The publicity of this Japanese festival over the recent years has also resulted in many curious foreign tourists making a trip here to witness the unusual ceremonial rites.
Upon entering, I noticed many people queuing at a side building and was wondering if it was a prayer spot and so I went to have a look. Hmm…at the front were 2 wooden phalluses decorated with some bells and people were actually touching/holding them for good luck! There was also a Shinto priest busy at work and oblivious to the crowds.
Located next to the little building was this black statue, which many people were queuing to get a picture with it and so I decided to take one too. It was raining quite a bit, thus I couldn’t do without my umbrella.
Nearby, I stumbled upon an elderly lady with a display of carved radishes – look closely and you will see what the “shapes” depict.
A little further down were two huge wooden phalluses and many westerners (especially the men!) seemed to be exceptionally thrilled when they straddled them and striked various poses for their photos! At that moment, if the expression on my face could be depicted by an emoticon, it would be the one with the raised eyebrow! LOL…
There was a stage area where performances were held at various times of the day. I made my way through the crowd and was slightly startled when I saw these two men standing right in front of me and thought to myself – “what a couple of d**kheads!!” (apologies, I don’t normally use profanities but that was literally what I saw!)
As with most Japanese festivals, there were various stalls selling food and other merchandise, but the ones here were all geared towards a particular theme (if you get my drift)…
Phallic-shaped candles for sale.
There were also several foodstalls and my eyes were drawn to this one which sold grilled fishcakes, octopus, squid and prawns…
Was it my imagination or were some of the food items arranged to resemble phalluses?
There was a second candy queue which was slightly shorter than the earlier one and I decided to join the line, but it still took me about 45 mins before I made a successful purchase!
Picture taken whilst in the queue!
I had actually entered the queue without knowing what were the types/colours/designs of candy that were available at the front of the queue – the human jam was terrible (worse than sardines packed in a can!), so there was no way for me to get to the front to check them out except by joining the line (this eventually ended up being multiple lines, which added to the chaos!!) and the crowds kept being pushed towards the left or right by people trying to find their way out from the madness!
Took a quick photo of the available merchandise when I finally made it to the front! (it was too crowded and I didn’t have enough elbow room to be able to compose a better picture)
This was what I ended up buying (just for the novelty) and three of them were given to friends.
Posing with my omiyage and quick snack (octopus) before lunch.
As I had been stuck in the candy queue for the longest time, I had missed the mikoshi procession when it left the shrine, but thankfully I managed to catch them on their way back.
The procession was headed by several young children…
…and followed by some masked characters.
At the very end of the procession were 3 mikoshis which were paraded through the streets on the shoulders of the people who were carrying them.
The first mikoshi was a black one and it was carried by men.
The second one was a bright pink one and initially I thought it was being carried by women, but upon taking a closer look, it apparently wasn’t so! This particular mikoshi is supposed to help increase the awareness of HIV and people who lead alternative lifestyles. I saw many cross-dressers at the festival and this also seemed to be a popular place for the Japanese LGBT community to congregate!
The last mikoshi in the procession.
This festival was an eye-opener for me and I concluded that the goings-on were still the strangest celebration practices that I’ve ever seen!
Wakamiya Hachiman Shrine「若宮八幡宮」
Held annually on the first Sunday in April.
Access: 2 min walk from the Kawasaki Daishi Station「川崎大師駅」.