Kanamara Matsuri – The Iron Penis Festival (viewer discretion)

If you have followed my blog you will know that I love festivals and have attended several around the world, from Holi in Jaipur, India to La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain to to Barcelona’s La Merce Festival to LGBTQ Pride in Tel Aviv, Israel, but I was always intrigued by a festival in Japan called the Kanamara Matsuri.  It is unlike any other festival you will experience.  The thing that I found so fascinating about it, is that it combined a religious festival with phallic symbolism.  To the western world, especially in prudish circles this would seem like an oxymoron.

While tourists attending the festival giggled about it, the Kanamara Matsuri isn’t a laughing matter for followers of the Shinto religion.  It is known as the Iron Phallus Festival and is celebrated on the first Sunday in April in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo. Penises are everywhere, as candy suckers, icons, candles, key chains, t-shirts, drawings and the large ones that are carried in the parade on mikoshi or portable shrines.

Many believe the festival celebrates a legend about a demon who fell in love with a beautiful woman and when she spurned him, the jealous, sharp-toothed demon hid inside her vagina. When she consummated her marriage the demon bit the penis off her husband. When she married again, the demon again bit off her husband’s penis.  So the community came together and had a blacksmith create an iron phallus that broke the demons teeth.

Another, more plausible explanation is that Kawasaki was an important stop for travelers between Edo (Tokyo) and western Japan and was a popular location for brothels.  Sex workers would visit the Kanayama Shrine as a way to pray for protection against sexually transmitted disease. And it’s believed that they created the Kanamara Matsuri festival to celebrate sexual health and fertility.

Today the LGBTQ community has adopted the festival and it is now also seen as a celebration of gay culture.

If you plan to attend the Kanamara Matsuri, make sure you get there early because it fills up fast! Arrive around 9-10am and the parade starts at around noon. If you are planning to get a souvenir or lollipop, get it as soon as you arrive or face massive lineups.

To get to the shrine, don’t try to drive, take public transportation.  Take the Keikyu-Daishi train from Kawasaki station (about a 10 minute train ride from Shingawa in Tokyo) and get off at the Kawasaki-Daishi train station. Just follow the crowds or when you exit the station, go right and then take the first left to the shrine.  You won’t have trouble finding it because of the crowds and security people directing traffic.

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  1. Springtime in Japan | RTW Travels.com - May 8

    […] I checked the weather for our next destination that we were scheduled to visit the next day to try to get a look at Mount Fuji. But when I saw the temperature was -1c with a high of only 4c with rain and wet snow I decided to cancel. We would have been travelling for several hours and would have to change trains at least four times and because of the rain and clouds we were not likely to be able to see the iconic mountain anyway. I checked with our hotel in Kyoto about staying an extra night, but there was a festival the next day and they only had a couple of smoking rooms available and the price would have been about $400/ night. Sorry I wasn’t about to pay that much for a room that smelled of stale smoke. I checked with the hotel we were going to on Sunday in Kawasaki and they were able to give us the extra night and at a great rate. Coincidentally the Kawasaki Hotel Mid is just off another covered pedestrian street.  If you are at all budget conscious, you should consider staying in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo. You are still close to everything and the price is half to a third what you would spend for a comparable room in central Tokyo. It’s also very close to Haneda airport where we would be departing from on Tuesday.  The area we were staying was a few blocks from the train station. It was convenient and only a 10 minute train ride to central Tokyo… unless you get on the wrong train which we did on our last day and ended up in the suburbs, about an hour outside Tokyo. We were there to attend a unique festival called the Kanamara Matsuri. […]

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