Japanese Penis Festival

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 51 Comments |

More respectfully known as the ‘Japanese Fertility Festival’, but let’s not beat around the bush here, this is a bizarre matsuri that is full of phallic shaped sweets, giant wooden penises and rice cakes as hard as canon balls.

So if you are easily offended, under the legal age to view this sort of stuff or don’t want to suffer my awful puns, you would be well advised to steer clear. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Okay, with that out the way, let’s get stuck into quite possibly the most exciting Japanese festival you could possibly plunge yourself into – the Penis Festival! Video of the day included at the end of this post!

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Bountiful Shrines Abound


Fertility Festivals are aplenty in Japan, and come in all shapes and forms, both graphic and subtle. I attended the Bonden Matsuri some time ago as a study abroad student at Akita International University which involved men running a huge phallic structure into the mouth a local shrine. No prizes for guessing the symbolism in that one.

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But this time it was the real deal. No suggestions or subtle hints at sex. There were more than a few carved wooden penises as well as huge flags bearing the proud symbol, take-home-for-mum souvenir sweets and of course, abundant Japanese festival food, all tastefully re-styled to fit the theme of the festival.

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The particular shrine I visited is called Tagata jinja and is in a small town North of Nagoya known as Komaki-shi (田縣神社、小牧市、愛知県). Held every year on the 15th of March, this Hounensai (豊年祭) is a fertility festival held to pray for a fruitful harvest, meant both in respect to the farming industry and also to families or couples wishing for a successful conception – a safe ‘harvest’ of children, if you will.

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Until recently, Komaki-shi was a farming area, and the festival has its roots in the Shinto shrine’s some 1500 years of history. The Kami (God) enshrined there embodies fertility and as such is a feminine deity. Just as objects shaped like the male genitalia are housed in Tagata shrine, in nearby Ogata shrine (大縣神社), there are objects in the shape of the female genitalia. For this reason, we are asked to remember the real meaning behind all the sexual imagery. As the Yamasa Homepage expertly puts it:

It is important to understand that the worship is not of the phalli, but instead a worship of the earth, of the power that nature has through renewal and regeneration. It is this context that provides the phallus with its significance.

In an agricultural community, the sacred feminine [deity] was worshipped, and the rituals that have survived to this day at the Tagata shrine were celebrations of this, conducted in order to ensure bountiful agricultural harvests, regeneration and renewal as well as human birth. In this way the Hounen matsuri is similar to other fertility rituals around the world. Hounen means bountiful year. The festival is held March 15th because spring is the time of regeneration where seeds sprout and dormant trees and plants that seem to be dead come back to life.

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Fun with Phalli


Nowadays though, the huge swell of visitors on March 15th – many of whom are foreign nationals – come to break out of the conservative bounds of daily life and enjoy the playful atmosphere. I don’t think there are many other places or times that you could get away with sucking on a penis-shaped lollipop or cheering on the procession of a 2.5 metre wooden phallus.

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Even the locals who help out at the event are into the spirit of things and for a few hours, everybody seems to forget the social taboos associated with such blatant sexual imagery, revelling in freedom by drinking sake (Japanese rice wine) and eating the various snack foods available from the huge number of yatai (foodstalls). Small penis-shaped keyrings are on sale, charms for protection or the safe delivery of a new child and even the chocolate-covered bananas often seen at Japanese festivals have been re-born with a new suggestive shape. (For the curious among you, here’s a collection of 10 souvenirs from a Japanese penis festival).

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The main procession starts around 2pm where a giant wooden penis carved anew each year from a cypress tree is paraded from one shrine to another. It weighs around 400 kilograms and requires around 60 men working in smaller teams to deliver it on its journey, occasionally stopping to spin the huge member around. Apparently the phallus used to be much smaller, but over the years it has grown in size, seemingly trying to compensate for it being ‘hidden’ within a portable shrine.

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Also a lesser-known fact, but traditionally the men and women most involved carrying the phalli are usually of ages deemed to be unlucky in Japan. The women carrying the sizeable wooden penises are 36 years old and the men are 42 (4 and 2 combine to create ‘shi-ni’ – a homophone for ‘to die’). The unlucky years (yakudoshi – 厄年) seem to vary according to tradition though, with the most typical yakudoshi for women being 33 (‘san-zan’ – meaning ‘hard’ or ‘disasterous’).

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After the main parade, there is a riceball throwing event, where locals from the city hurl rock-hard cricket ball-sized mochi down into the crowds. It’s pretty dangerous and I think I saved one older Japanese guy from a faceful of pain at one point, stopping a speeding clod inches before his eyes. After being inside that rabble, I was quite glad of the several ambulances waiting by the gates to the shrine…

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The day closed up with a heavy rain shower, which had thankfully held off right until the final mochi mosh-pit, and the giant penis was laid to rest inside the main shrine. Guests busied themselves buying a last few penis and vagina-shaped sweets and headed back for the nearest train station. From now the shrine will be relatively quiet and cater mostly for those coming to wish for a successful pregnancy, but you can be sure the fun will begin once again when a new spring approaches.

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Well then, here’s all that video footage I’ve been editing. Enjoy!

51 comments on “Japanese Penis Festival
  1. john gregg says:

    I am a retired anthropology professor about to publish a five volume work entitled ;
    The Illustrated History of sex. It encompasses human sexual history though time
    and all cultures where sexual information is available.
    I would like to have permission to use your photo of the giant wooden penis being carried 9 name of festival).
    I saw in on Google images under Japnese sex celebrations.
    It might be good advertizing for your site if I credit your photo by naming your website?
    Sincerely
    John Gregg

  2. Rosa says:

    Unbelievable! How could such a thing really BE? LOL….

  3. umair says:

    I cant bl eave that, where hi party ?

  4. Thought I’d share- I know this is an old post and you might not check it- but, anyway. I included the article I wrote on the same day you wrote this in a book of essays. A reviewer said that all this “weird Japan” stuff is getting trite. Looking at your blog since then, I can’t disagree more. You come up with some amazing material, all of which is fun and fascinating and a huge part of the culture. Thanks for embracing the giant penis festivals and fun train posters, as well as the million other things that make Japan truly unique.
    http://www.amazon.com/Geisha-Smackdown-ebook/dp/B00AANCHY4/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_t_2

  5. Yuong Lee says:

    hahaha

  6. Fidel Hart says:

    Ha ha, I saw this linked from Lonelee Planet’s page. Great information about the festival and awesome pictures. I am hoping to see the festival in Kawasaki this year. 

  7. Samira_kamali44 says:

    Well, I believe I was about five metres away from you during the
    parade. :D My experience wasn’t as pleasant, I had some pushy old guys
    around me which wasn’t fun :

  8. Arsonist_j16 says:

    where is the particular place here in japan?
    please?

  9. Spritof says:

    Whare’s the video? :|

  10. Edward_209 says:

    The Japanese are seriously.some.freaks

  11. How can this be okay? One would think cooler ‘heads’ might have prevailed, even hundreds of years ago, but… That’s Japan, right.

    • Paganistic says:

      Luckily not everyone is uptight Jew like you.  Go Japan! Fertility festivals used to be celebrated around the world before the monotheism settles in (unfortunately) , especially the destructive Judaism, which gave birth to almost as bad Christianity and Islam. So there you go. Stop being such an uptight Jew, get a life, stop being so false and prudish, get with nature or at least leave other people alone and stick your big Jewish nose in your own backyard.  

  12. Mooocow99 says:

    Hey!
    I’m doing a project on Japanese festivals and was thinking of doing the well know ones like the new years festival & cherry blossom festival…..
    Do you have any idea’s I could use?!?!
    I would have loved to do this one as well but I don’t think my teacher would appreciate me doing that…..
    Or any good info sites?!?!?
    If you do please get back to me on that….

    Much appreciated for the help…..
    -bows-

  13. Boris says:

    wow! that looks really interesting. so want to go there, i’ll just expect the unexpected XD

    http://oh-wheezers.blogspot.com

  14. Milea Marinas says:

    Whew, I can’t believe that there is such a festival such as this. And even the girls are actively participating on this occasion. Well maybe because this is the first time I heard and saw such festival, penis being carried by a woman during the parade where everyone could see her. But maybe if I get a chance to visit Japan this is one of the things I would like to experience.

  15. Ayurvedaways says:

    Dude its big

  16. Rukishou says:

    Where did the video go?

  17. Eric says:

    hey hey, sitting here with my Lady, who happens to be Japanese, and I mentioned that “japanese Penis Festival” she said something along the lines of “What…?”

    So, I found your post.

    Awesome!

    Thank you for helping me be right…again….ahhhh….being right…..

  18. Huma Bhurawala says:

    Sugoi! I had no idea they had such a festival! Thanks for the video, informative and interesting as usual!

  19. Wow! Now that's what I call a huge penis. When does the next festival occur? I would like to visit it in order to learn even more about the male penis.

  20. yamie_pyon says:

    and before I forget, awesome post man. great video.

  21. yamie_pyon says:

    I just had a funny dream about phallic-shaped mancakes weeks ago and boom I stumbled on this. Great pictures btw XD Interesting lollipops ;p

  22. caughtredhanded says:

    Great, great post. The video at the end is highly entertaining. The 'Almighty English' hey; I never thought I'd see the day…

  23. Jenny says:

    Do they have this festival in certain areas of Japan? I haven't heard anything in the Tokyo area.

  24. Gakuranman says:

    Hey! Thanks for dropping by. How'd you find me after all that sake? :p

    It was definitely cool to learn about the history writing this article, and those older guys you attracted in the circle were hilarious! Sorry for butting in like that, but I just knew something funny would come from that situation! Nice writeup on the festival yourself by the way, and if you want to use any of my pictures in your writeup, just send me an email to clarify and it should be fine :)

  25. Gakuranman says:

    Haha, thanks! They were great guys :)

  26. Hey Michael,
    I met you briefly at the festival, but had no idea you were writing about it, too. I just had to say that I loved your pictures. I also love that you paid attention to the history of the event. A lot of people who wrote about the festival blew that off completely, which was too bad.
    Great article. I'm glad I stumbled onto your site.
    http://cbellabell.blogspot.com/2010/03/penis-fe
    I'm sending my blog entry- the article I was being paid to write hasn't come out yet.

  27. Franzi says:

    Great job with the video! Those oyajis are adorable ^.^

  28. Jonny says:

    It's very similar to the かなまら祭り up in Kawasaki. I went a while back but didn't buy the “ahem” lolipop. love the post ^^

  29. Gakuranman says:

    Seriously!? Too bad I didn't catch you there! :(

  30. Well, I believe I was about five metres away from you during the parade. :D My experience wasn't as pleasant, I had some pushy old guys around me which wasn't fun :P

  31. Gakuranman says:

    Haha. Thanks for your comment Loco. Maybe he can be the inspiration for your next character ;)

  32. Locohama says:

    I really LOVED the video dude! Great editing job and the translation was fluid. You created a warm, jouyous atmosphere, not ridiculing but a feel for the true meaning of the festival and how that meaning has evolved a bit. And that older gentleman you chose to personify the festival was rich character-wise!
    Ostukaresama deshita!
    Loco

  33. Gakuranman says:

    Apologies! Comments were broken for a while. Feel free to drop something in now!

    • Linor34b says:

      Is there a similar festival for the opposite sex?  After all, there can never be a “fertility” with just one reproductive organ?  If there is one
      I would love to go to Japan and have a good time!

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