Thursday, April 09, 2009
Oh yes, I went again - the yearly festival of the steel phallus, Kanamara Matsuri. There's just something about this kind of festival that sucks you in, a certain charm I guess you might say. This time I got to see most of what I wanted to: saw the peni-parade, bought a poon-pop, rode the wooden general... done, done and done! I was also rather amused by the fact that the people who volunteered to help out in directing traffic when the procession left the shrine for a one hour jaunt through town were none other than... ready for it? The local boy scouts! Go figure.
I've mentioned the festival to any number of people, foreigner and Japanese, and people seem to be split in their opinions. Just now I had my camera on me and showed a Japanese friend pictures, and he was just shocked that such a thing happened in his country. When I told him that it's been around for a few hundred years and has tradition, he said that that makes it even worse - strange stuff like that shouldn't be what Japan is known for, but strange festivals and traditions like that exist and make Japan look weird. Oh and did I mention that this guy is a total perv who has no problem with guys cheating on their girlfriends or the various red light district options available in Japan and much of Asia for that matter?
Now sure Kanamara and festivals like it are rather known abroad, even if it's just as "that Japanese penis festival", but so what if they do? And conversely, most Japanese people don't know about it or avoid these kinds of festivals, but why shouldn't they know about it and participate in it?
There's nothing perverted about sex or penises, and I personally am certainly not shackled by that "traditional" western concept. I say "traditional" because prostitution is known as the oldest industry in the world. That, and half the world owns a penis, and everyone has sex... or at least everyone but the Pope and maybe some extreme introverts. None of us would be here if it wasn't for sex, so celebrate it!
There are fertility festivals and shrines elsewhere in the country, but Kanamara and the shrine at Kawasaki Daishi are devoted to prevention of stds - they contribute a bunch of the proceeds to HIV research apparently, and it says people on the grounds pass out condoms but I certainly didn't see them. Anyway, certainly a worthy cause. My question is, why is this something to be ashamed of, and why shouldn't the whole country be aware of and perfectly fine with the fact that these kinds of things go on in Japan?
Your country celebrates the penis Japan, now raise that penis-pop with pride! Be true to your traditions and show the rest of the world that sex is nothing to be ashamed of.
For more pictures of Kanamara visit my Flickr page.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
I have been fairly delinquent from my posting duties here in the past month, but as I have found a small pocket of free time here, I felt the need to update the gobs of pictures I've taken over the past few weeks and decompress it all a bit.
So here's part one: hanami recap! All the photos can be found in the normal places - Facebook and Flickr. I'll try to give a brief overview of the places I went, along with a little taste for each location. If you're in Tokyo this'll give you an idea of places to check out next year, if not then it'll show you what you're missing out on.
Yoyogi Park (代々木公園)
So the first of my hanami outings was the always entertaining Yoyogi Park just outside of Harajuku. If you're in Tokyo and you want to hanami, this is the place to party for sure. Some people might try and throw you off and tell you Ueno is THE place but they're wrong... or they don't like their music turned up to 11. Yoyogi was nuts from about noon til I left at 9-10pm, and there was even DJs set up in the woods from 5 or 6pm. It was cold and the sakura weren't in full bloom yet, but that's not what we were there for.
One thing I was wondering about myself before this year was how you actually get your spot staked out in the park - well here's the answer: show early. I showed up at 9am and probably would've been fine given the less than spectacular weather and all, but just to be safe we had someone who lived close show up at 7am with our tarp, and he came through with a great spot right underneath an already blooming tree. We didn't have to bribe any squatters or stay overnight, just had to be early enough - here's the morning crew.
If you don't know already, to get there get off at Harajuku station and walk past Meiji Shrine.
Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社)
After that blur, I was ready to just relax, so our next trip takes us to Yasukuni Shrine for some night shots outside of Kudanshita. While the shrine itself may be shrouded in controversy most of the time, I didn't even get to go inside as I showed up well after the shrine itself closed. In the area leading up to the shrine though they have a small "sakura festival" with a bunch of little stands to get food and drinks. It was ok, but there are better places to see if you're looking for yozakura viewing sites. Here's a couple more shots.
To get to Yasukuni, get off at Kudanshita station and walk up the hill. It's across from the Budokan.
Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑)
Next up was Shinjuku Gyoen, which has a wonderful garden area that would be worth seeing even without sakura, and even with the stupid 200 yen entrance fee. Don't get me wrong though, as with any park this is the best time to be there - even with the crowds.
I would say that whereas Yoyogi is the most random and fun park I've been to in Tokyo without rival, but Shinjuku Gyoen is the best upkept one - they put that 200 yen to work and it shows. It may be rivaled in that department by Rikugien, which I did not make it out in time for... there's always next year.
To get to Gyoen, the fastest way is to get off at Shinjuku San-chome and walk towards Yotsuya - it's around 1-chome. Here's a couple more shots.
Aoyama Cemetery (青山霊園)
Moving along, the next stop on our tour was Aoyama Reien, also known as Aoyama Cemetery. A co-worker mentioned this place and how he always saw a whole bunch of foreigners in there taking pictures, and now I know why. It's pretty much a straight stretch of about 1-2km that is just sakura pink as far as you can see. The cemetery itself is known for being home to many of the foreigners who played crucial parts in the industrialization of Japan back in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Fairly interesting. It apparently also holds the grave of the dog Hachiko, which most people know as a statue at Shibuya station.
This one's a little harder to get to - the fastest is probably to get off at Gaienmae on the Ginza line and walk about 8 mins., but we just took a taxi as we were pressed for time.
I rode by this river literally hundreds of times last year when I was riding the Toyoko Line into Tokyo for work and always thought it looked like a nice spot, but I had no idea what a great way to end the night this would be. I've seen pictures during the day which looked very nice, but the real charm of this location is that it is one of the better spots to check out the sakura at night. We got there right about at dusk and stayed for quite a while to take it all in.
The place is a 1-2km stretch with paths along both sides of the river, going basically between Naka-meguro station on the Toyoko Line and Ikejiri Ohashi station on the Denentoshi Line - starting at either end is ok, the Naka-meguro end is more packed and the Ikejiri end is almost dead, but it's quite a walk from one end to the other. This one definitely ranks high on my list and is definitely worth another visit.
Chidori ga Fuchi (千鳥ヶ淵)
I definitely saved the best for last here - this is the best place to view sakura I've seen in Tokyo yet (not to be confused with hanamis... this place is better without liquid enhancements). It's basically right outside the Imperial Palace, where a plethora of sakura trees line the northern side of the moat. During the day you can rent boats to ride right into the trees hanging down into the water, and the view at night is just phenomenal. If you want to see the sakura in all their glory and can only go to one spot in Tokyo, make it this one.
The only downside - I just wished I would've realized it was there earlier! The best area is right around the corner from the Budokan and Yasukuni Shrine, across from Kudanshita station again.
There are still a few places worth seeing that I didn't stop by - Ueno is definitely worth seeing again (this time with a camera), and I am definitely checking out Rokugien next year... if I don't just decide to do like a friend of mine did this year and head down to Kyoto.
Ok, well there were also some sakura down in Kawasaki Daishi this past weekend, but I was there to see other things - things which I shall save for next post. :P