Kanamara Festival – Penis Festival
Many people think Japanese culture is either very serious or crazy. I see blogs where westerners write their experiences in Japan in the sense of, “Look, crazy!”, “Wow, that´s strange!”. But then they don´t really explain what they are doing or why they are doing it. Perhaps it´s not so important for some people.
The festival held today maybe one of those “crazy” events in Japan. It was to me first time I saw it in the news. Kanamara Festival (Kanamara matsuri/ かなまら祭り), in an easy way to understand, Penis Festival. Yes, it´s an event that men´s genital everywhere. Shocking, I must say. A huge pink penis on the potable shrine (Elizabeth Mikoshi) is carried around the town of Kawasaki by female carriers is simply weird.
But this is an actually serious festival, which started in Edo period by Meshimori-onna (飯盛女) who were the maids in the inns in Kawasaki but often engaged in prostitution. Once a year those women went to the shrine and prayed for not getting a venereal disease or a good business. Now this event is held for a good business, prosperity of descendants, an easy delivery, finding a good partner, happy marriage. Recently it became internationally popular for preventing AIDS and many tourists come to see it.
By the way, the name Kanamara, Mara (摩羅) is a jargon for monks and means men´s genital. It´s interesting that the monks have a special word for it.
Anyway, the festival looks very chaotic. There are so many people come to see the penises and there are many around. Not only those symbols but also so many products related to men´s genital, candies, chocolate, T-shirts, candles, lucky charms or any other things. Many girls want to mount on the huge wooden penis statue and take photos.
Kanayama Jinja (金山神社) is also known as the god of blacksmith as well as the god of sex. It´s said in Japanese mythology that when Izanami-no-Mikoto gave birth to the god of fire, the god Kanamara (of Kanayama Jinja) healed her burn. This is why the shrine worship both sex and blacksmith gods. During the festival, you can also see the ceremony of the blacksmith, which is also as spectacular as penis party.
It´s interesting to see this festival. Japanese society is still conservative comparing to the western world. In the last 10 years, you see more young couples walk on the street holding hands. But still you don´t see couple hugging or kissing in the public space. Then at the same time, you see pornographic comics, magazines or small posters for sex shops everywhere. I haven´t seen so many pornographic images in public in any part of Europe. Japanese people don´t talk about sex so openly with friends as people to do in the West. When you see people in Kanamara Matsuri, you may notice people are relaxed. That´s because Japanese people grow up being taught sex is something ashamed of. We don´t talk about it but sex is everywhere. I´m not a psychiatrist but I could imagine that living in this dilemma gives people twisted idea about sex. Why so many Chikan (痴漢/molester) in the trains in Japan but not in the western society? Can we shift dirty, dark and embarrassing image of sex into love?
Perhaps this festival is a relief for Japanese people. This gives people an opportunity to think sex is just a part of our life and nothing to ashamed of. If this event became integrated with the daily life (without these massive men´s genitals strolling on the street), we had much less perverts in the public space and especially schoolgirls wouldn´t need to suffer from them.
At the end, Kanamara Festival isn´t just an erotic crazy event but is to encourage Japanese people to have cleaner image about sex. Well, let´s hope…
Video from 2013.
This is the ceremony of the blacksmith.
More Japanese annual festivals