So... now on to the main attraction - what you may have heard of referred to as "that Japanese penis festival", Kanamara Matsuri! For the linguistic breakdown, 'kana' is a variation of the word metal and 'mara' is a seldom if ever used word meaning phallus. And there you have it. If you're like my dad and can't even utter the word 'penis' in public or if you just have the attention span of my 2-year-old nephew, you can just skip right to the pictures here. Here's a little taste:
So is this for real you ask? Why yes, it in fact takes place every year on the 1st Sunday of April in Kawasaki Taishi at the Kanayama Shrine (金山神社）and has been doing so since the Edo Period. The purpose? Well, it's supposed to be a shrine for people to pray for protection from STDs... and from what I've heard young Japanese people don't pray too much anymore. Oh, and according to Wikipedia...
"...There's also a legend of a demon that hid inside a young girl and castrated two young men on their wedding nights before a blacksmith fashioned an iron phallus that was used to break the demon's teeth, leading to the enshrinement of the item."Wow. So before there was Bobbitt, there was giant pink penis demon guy, interesting. Another fun thing about this is that people on the other side of the world are more likely to know about it than people that live even in Kawasaki, the city outside of Tokyo where it takes place. Most Japanese will stare at you in utter disbelief if you try and tell them about this, unless they're the type to feel shame on behalf of their country because of it. The cool ones embrace it and find themselves scattered in amongst the gaijin-filled crowds, grinning ear to ear with the rest of us and taking pictures as they giggle and chortle to themselves at penis pops and phallic floats. Lots of foreigners do show though - I went alone ahead of the roommates and ran into no less than 4 foreign friends, including a couple that has gone together for the past 3 years and counting! The people that run and come to this festival are more laid back than the majority of the populace though and have embraced the foreign element. The festival is currently used to raise and fund research for HIV research.
So what happens at this festival you ask? Well they have three main giant phallic symbols: the main is a big black steely dealy, next comes the one-eyed pink monster, and last we have the classic woody. The black one and the pink one get to play their roles being paraded down the streets by cross-dressers in kimono and guys wearing sumo diapers (yes I know they're really called 'fundoshi', but "sumo diapers" just has such a nice ring to it) in a traditional practice known as omikoshi. Alas I missed the parade due to no less than 5 of the items mentioned above in the intro, but video of last year's can be seen here. The wooden guy has a more passive role as it camps out and watches the fort, sitting there waiting to be ridden for a great photo opportunity. Again, I showed late and missed out, but there are plenty of examples floating around the internet if you search.
Other main attractions include the crossdressers which are all over the place and the erotic lollipops, with both male and female version to please all. There were so many people in line for the candy that the guy making it had everyone standing around waiting play jan-ken just for the chance to pay him 600yen for a penis (or pussy) pop (his wording not mine). I lost, but will most definitely be back for revenge next year.
Now as I noticed a veritable dearth of information online about this in English, I'll give a recap of the specs of this event in the hope that it will help even just one soul find their way to this wondrous happening.
Name: Kanamara Matsuri, aka "the Penis Festival" （金まら祭）
Place: Kawasaki Daishi （川崎大師）, Kanayama Shrine （金山神社）
Time: 1st Sunday of April, with the parade starting around 12 noon. Be early!!
Getting there: from JR Kawasaki station, turn right and go down the stairs/escalator. Notice the elevated train tracks in front of you and follow them to your left to Keikyu Kawasaki station.（京急川崎駅）
Take the platform on the right labeled Kawasaki Daishi and it's maybe the 3rd stop.
From the station here, go right out of the station and you'll see the shrine which is just around the corner once you cross the street.
And with that, I hope to see you there next year! Mike? ;P
Once again, pictures here!