Japan’s Strangest Celebration
MAJOR DISCLAIMER! This post is obviously not safe to read at the office or near your grandmother. I take no responsibility for any of the consequences that might stem from the consumption of the following text. That said, if you’ve already clicked on an article with a title like this, chances are that either you’re safe or otherwise don’t give a damn. Regardless, let’s dive on into this bad boy! We’ll be taking a look at the legendary Kanamara Festival or as it is more colloquially known abroad, the “Penis Festival.” Did I say MAJOR DISCLAIMER? Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
The Kanamara Festival was first held in 1969 at the minuscule Kanayama Shrine. Since that time, the festival has become an infamous worldwide destination thanks in no small part to the clickbait loving foreign press. I mean c’mon, where else can you get lollipops in the shape of the male genitalia? The exact dates of the Kanamara Festival vary from year to year yet the annual celebration is usually hosted on the first Sunday in April. And, for the record, no I am not “dicking” around here; this is no April Fools’ joke!
By now I am sure you are thinking there has to be one hell of a story behind this bizarre festival! Luckily for you, the legend certainly exceeds expectations. According to my research, this penis-venerating shrine has been popular for years with sex workers who would pray for protection from STDs. Even today, all proceeds from the Kanamara Festival are donated to HIV research thanks to this legacy. It is also said that Kanayama Shrine offers divine protection for businesses, ease of birth, marriage, and harmony among couples.
This is all fine and good until you realize that the patron deities enshrined here are actually the gods of mining and blacksmiths. What the hell do these have to do with phalluses? Well, as it turns out, these two were said to have had the dire responsibility of healing the Shinto goddess Izanami’s “hoo-ha” after she gave birth to a fire god. Talk about a tough delivery! Because of this myth, locals have prayed at Kanayama Shrine for all sorts of issues “down under.”
Wait! There’s more! A local folk tale tells of a beautiful young woman who experienced the unfortunate troubles of having a love-struck demon take up residence between her legs. As the story goes, this otherworldly fiend chomped off the penis of our young bride’s husband not once, but twice! Details of how he managed to grow his penis back are lacking but the poor couple were ultimately able to break the invader’s teeth and expel the demon with the help of a local blacksmith’s handcrafted metal shlong (which is magnificently enshrined at Kanayama Shrine).
How to Get There
Kanayama Shrine and the Kanamara Festival are located only a few minutes away from the Kawasaki Daishi Station. Many of you will likely be coming from central Tokyo meaning you’ll need to first transfer at Kawasaki Station. Always refer to a service like Jorudan to figure out the best route and optimal connections for you and your group.
Once you’re at Kawasaki Daishi Station, the actual festival awaits just a short walk. If you need a reference, follow this map to the shrine’s grounds. That said, the Kanamara Festival has become very popular lately which means you should just stick with the crowds.
What to Expect at the Festival
What is one to expect from all this madness besides intense crowds and long toilet lines? Let’s begin by addressing the estimated time of your arrival. Much of the online content will give a wide range of times beginning as early as 10 AM and running through until 5 PM. While this is all true and the festival does indeed go that long, the main event, the penis parade, kicks off around 12:00 PM. If you roll in later than high noon you’ll miss most of the fun! Given the size of the crowd, I suggest getting there no later than 11:00 AM to be safe.
Moving on, from what I can garner from previous years and my own experience, this legendary parade is comprised of three mikoshi floats featuring unique phalluses. The largest of float, the pink “Elizabeth,” was donated by a drag queen club called, you guessed it, Elizabeth! In honor of this tradition, those who bear the awe inspiring Elizabeth are required to dress in drag themselves. Another float carries the black metal phallus; as tradition goes, this is the original phallus known for its courageous assist while removing the demon in the aforementioned fable.
While the order seems to vary each year, the three penis mikoshi roll out of Kanayama Shrine one at a time to parade around the town. Given the popularity of the Kanamara Festival, security remains pretty tight. Once the phalluses pass by, it is usually acceptable to join in the parade yourself. It seems that the three divine “pleasure rods” work their way past the Kawasaki Daishi temple complex on their way to Daishi Park.
Once the parade has started there are basically two options for you to continue enjoying the Kanamara Festival. The first option has you staying the vicinity of the Kanayama Shrine. In 2017, I enjoyed a live music performance and strolling the yatai food stalls selling all sorts of penis-shaped confectioneries. If you choose this option, you will also be rewarded with waiting in inordinately long lines for the chance to pray to the enshrined giggle stick if that’s what gets you off.
Continue on to Daishi Park
If you would rather chase off after the shafts of delight, make your way along with the parade goers toward Daishi Park. Here, too, you’ll be greeted by rows and rows of vendors selling all sorts of phallic delectables and merchandise. While I personally didn’t stay long enough to find out, the audible shouts of “KA-NA-MA-RA” could be heard while heading to the train. This would suggest that the mikoshi make their way back to Kanayama Shrine in a parade formation as well.
All-in-all, the Kanamara Festival makes for a whacky half day excursion with endless possibilities for sexual innuendos. That said, those who are religious prudes, have children, or are adverse to annually-growing crowds of rowdy westerners might consider skipping this event. Thanks to how well this festival performs as a headline in the English language media, every year the numbers have been exploding. I fear just how many cock-hungry savages will descend on poor Kanayama Shrine next year…
Until next time travelers…