Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Penis?

A curious Japanese festival involving a princess, a demon and a big iron penis

The Kanamara Matsuri (Iron Penis Festival) is held at the beginning of April on a Sunday at Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine in Kawasaki Japan in the honor of the Kanamara Sama (Lord Iron Penis). The festival dates back to the 17th century when this area was a regular stop for travelers along the Tokaido, the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo period connecting Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. The festival was started by Meshimori Onna (as prostitutes were commonly called), who would attend the festival to pray for protection against gonorrea and other sexually-transmited diseases.

The legend, however, talks of a demon who lived in a princess’ vagina and would bite off the penises of those men who courted her. To avoid more of these incidents an iron phallus was built, which broke the demon’s teeth when it tried to bite yet another penis, and from that moment the festival celebrates this victory over the demon.

People of all ages participate in a parade, as can be seen in the images, and everybody wears or carries a huge penis, penis-shaped mikoshis (Shinto shrines), enjoy penis shaped candies and hot dogs, carve daikon (Japanese radishes) into penis shapes, and dress up as their favorite cartoon character with enlarged penises. Hugging the giant wooden “organs” is said to bring you good luck. The ceremony is headed by a priest that celebrates a full Shinto ritual.

Currently, the festival raises funds for AIDS charities and attracts a curious mix of populations, especially foreigners and Tokyo transvestites, which probably make up half the audience. Childless couples come to pray for fertility.

(To read my original article in PDF: All Hail the Power of the Big Bad Penis


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