Monday, April 6, 2009

Kanamara Matsui

Penis. My Sunday was all about the penis.

This does not often happen to me. And it's not what you think. Seriously. Did you think this?If so, you have an active imagination and a wholly skewed idea of how exciting my life is. Except this Sunday!

Once a year for centuries, the people of Kawasaki have hosted the Kanamara Matsui or the phallus festival. I left at 8:00 am from base on a tour sponsored by Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, with my friend Anna. Josh couldn't go because the band had to work, which is just too bad.

This festival began when courtesans would carry phallus mikoshi (portable shrines) in a parade to pray to the gods for prosperity and not to get syphilis. Hey, can't hurt to pray, eh? Now of course the festival is a big tourist attraction for Japanese and foreigners - the crowds were insane. Here's what it looked like most of the time I was there:Which meant most of what I saw looked like this:Everyone knows the population is dense in Japan, but these were the worst crowds I've ever seen. Certain areas of the Wakamiya Shrine were like mosh pits, everyone throwing elbows and trying to get from booth to booth, shrine to photo op. And oh, the photo ops. There were artists carving Daikon radishes into big penises - I learned they were later auctioned off.There were Torii gates.
And of course, there were penis shrines, perfect for funny photos...

...with the whole family!That just cracked me up. The base-sponsored (not free, just offered) tour was for adults only - no kids or even babies allowed. To a fertility festival. But there were Japanese kids everywhere - riding the penis see-saw, on which I am furious to say I did NOT get a turn - getting their pictures taken, and enjoying penis lollipops. I wish I knew enough about Japanese culture to tell you whether this is some sacred rite for children or whether those parents are just like the ones who bring toddlers to midnight movies, but I guess you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

I will say that the whole thing was an interesting mix of all in good fun and sacred. Naturally, I lit some incense and said prayers for Josh's and my luck in starting our family this year, and I rubbed some of those kanamara for luck. (The statues!) But I also giggled at the men wearing short jackets and no pants - no underpants either in some cases, as Anna found out when one of them dropped his keys. Oh dear. Just before the parade began, a group of miko or female shamans, performed a ritual dance while music was piped in over loudspeakers. I caught a bit of it on video by holding the camera over my head - sorry it's so shaky.
The girls were all beautiful, and one in particular reminded me of my cousin Lizz. Maybe it's the nose?What a beautiful day. It would have been worth the $25 just to see the cherry blossoms, fish, turtles, and people that have come out of hiding for the spring.

Then there was the actual parade, when mikoshi are carried for nearly an hour through town. I wish the guide had provided more information about that part, because I was unaware that
a) my skull would be nearly crushed as the beams supporting the shrines were carried away,
and b) the pink phallus would be carried solely by transvestites.Not that there's anything wrong with that! It's just that I'd like to know why. And are they transgender? Or just in costume for the occasion? Because they looked really, really good.

All in all, I have to say it was a pretty exhausting day. See, I think I have seasonal allergies here or something, because when I try to go to sleep my sinuses fill with cement and I wake up hornking, since I hate mouth-breathing. If you don't know what hornking is, try to make the sound "HORNK" with your nose and throat. There you go, you've got it. So I hadn't slept the night before, and the crazy crowds and drunken tourists were a bit much. But Anna and I kept each other entertained, and had some really killer tempura and miso soup before the bus took us home. And stopped at McDonalds, because we knew they'd have a clean bathroom.

Kids playing on phalluses and spotlessly clean McDonalds: Japan, or Bizarro World? I guess it's kind of both.

P.S. Heh, of COURSE I got some souvenirs. The second photo is just for scale. That's a big willie sucker, a little pack of male and female genital lollipops, choco-peens, and a candle. I tried to get Josh to pose with them for a photo, but he said something about "having a career" and demurred.


clembo said...

NO comments yet? What a bunch a chicken internets we are!

Melanie said...

I'll comment!!! This post is competing among others for my favorite post by you ever!!! The pictures and descriptions were awesome!! The family picture and guys in short jackets were my favorite pictures and of course you with the penis shrine. What an interesting event! Oh yea, and the non-penis pictures were gorgeous, awesome cherry blossoms. Sorry you were exhausted and your allergies are bad, but it sounds like you are sure glad you went to the festival! I am glad you went. I am going to tell my mom to look at this post :) Thanks Em. And tell Josh Career Shmareer.

Bethanyivy said...

I can't believe you didn't get a turn on the penis see-saw. Now that would have made a fun picture. It sounds like you had a lot of fun. It is interesting experienceing other cultures. I'm very curious how Japanese view this festival. How many people actually attend to honor and worship their 'god of fertility' and how many actually attend (as most americans) to snicker and laugh and have a funny day with a bunch of penises.

cSquared said...

The family gathering around a giant penis is the best!!! Hilarious!