In recent years Japan has become well known for its strange relationship with sex. Young people in Japan are pushing ‘sex’ further and further down their to-do list, in favour of computers, cartoons and the internet. For a country with a sex-drive so low that it sells more adult nappies than it does infant ones, the Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) comes as something of a shock.
Each year in April, thousands gather in the city of Kawasaki, situated between the capital Tokyo and Yokohama. Kawasaki is home to the Kanayama shrine, which is the centre of the Kanamara Matsuri celebrations. Legend has it that the shrine was resurrected in memory of the fabled toothed vagina, where a demon would bite off male genitalia. The shrine is well renowned as a site where prostitutes would come to pray for protection against STDs. However, nowadays the shrine has become a symbol of fertility which attracts many young couples who are looking to start a family.
On the day of Kanamara Matsuri, at noon, the omikoshi (giant pink penis altar) is carried towards the shrine in preparation for the parade. The parade consists of three giant erect idols being carried through the streets by people dressed head to toe in pink.
The festival itself takes on a street-party vibe, as the tourist and locals go around stalls which sell all manner of phallic objects and participate in fun, penis-themed games. People can be seen buying phallic candles, licking phallic ice-lollies, and even taking part in the competition to carve the most anatomically correct phallic-shaped radish.
One stall even offers the chance to sample some ‘amazake’ , a mixture of cloudy white sake and dried fish that is said to have both the look and taste of semen. If you are not already tempted to purchase any of these unique souvenirs, the fact that all proceeds go to an Aids charity may help sway you. The festival is refreshingly outrageous. One striking thing to be noticed is that all the objects are incredibly ‘dildo-esque’: there is not a cartoon, two-dimensional ‘willy’ in sight. This is the festival of the phallic in all its realistic glory.
The festival is awash with people making the obvious jokes, as they pose for photographs with their phallic lollipops and mount an erect wooden penis. The day is a pure Freudian fan’s dream, as you walk through the penis-lined streets in a country renowned for its lack of libido. Kanamara Matsuri holds nothing back and is everything anyone could ever want from a penis festival and, as a result, Kawasaki demands a visit almost as much as the demon in the legend of the toothed vagina should have demanded a dentist.
The Legend behind the festival
Local legend of the toothed vagina tells that in the Edo period (1603 – 1867) a demon fell in love with a girl who married another man. In a fit of anger, the demon occupied the woman’s vagina on their wedding night, so as they tried to consummate their marriage, the demon bit off the husband’s penis. The woman decided to remarry, and the demon did the same with her second husband.
By now, the villagers were a little upset at these recurrences so one blacksmith made an iron dildo. When the demon tried to bite it off, it broke off his teeth and he no longer inhabited the woman’s vagina. Many consider the symbol of the ‘toothed vagina’ to represent to the fear of syphilis.