Archive for the ‘Festival’ Category

There are famous local and nationwide festivals all over Japan all year round, but two of them stick out like a sore peni–… uhm… thumb: the fertility festivals near Nagoya, Aichi.
A year ago I wrote in great lengths (no pun intended!) about the second part of the Honen Matsuri, better known as “That Japanese penis festival!” – just in time for you to visit it, as it is held every year on March 15th, no matter which day of the week it is; it’s a Sunday in 2015, so be prepared to see some additional dicks and chocolate covered bananas there…
Last year I also visited the much less famous first part of the Honen Matsuri, better known as “There is another fertility festival in Nagoya?” – it’s always on the Sunday before March 15th (which is March 8th this year, less than four weeks from now!) and it is all about female fertility, symbolized by an enshrined stone vulva; well, at least on paper it’s all about the vajayjay…

The history of the festival, which is held near Gakuden Station on the Meitetsu Komaki Line, just one stop away from the dick-ish penis festival at Tagatajinjamae, dates back hundreds of years and ties directly into the other festival, making it all about… agriculture. Yes, instead of Thanksgiving, it’s kind of Thankspraying – and since fertility is much easier to understand (and to market!) when it’s symbolized by human genitals instead of a tiny kernel and some dirt…

The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri (as the Female Fertility Festival is really called) loosely translates as Princess’s Shrine Harvest Festival and starts at 9:00 a.m. with a prayer service for good crops, followed by a ceremony blessing the kodomo mikoshi, the portable shrine for children. From 11:00 a.m. on a child procession is leading up to the main event venue, the Oagata Shrine – which is super cute as all the little ones are dressed up and their parents, also dressed up, are walking right beside them, proud as peacocks. This is followed by a car parade from 12 o’clock on and the arrival of several mikoshi, portable shrines, carried by up to two dozen young men, in the afternoon. In addition to that, there are all kinds of entertainment, like an amazing drum troupe and the beautiful flower garden of the adjunct Taikokuebisu Shrine. The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri ends at around 4 p.m. with a mochi nage, in which elevated elderly officials shower the masses below with huge rice cakes the size of an adult’s palm.
While the famous *penis festival* is a rather loud, fleshy… flashy… festival where drunk people from all over the world (yes, tons of foreigners, more than I’ve ever seen anywhere at the same place in Japan!) openly celebrate an otherwise suppressed love for everything phallic, the Himenomiya Honen Matsuri is much more subtle and feels like a real traditional Japanese festival, not like a spectacle for tourists from near and far. The usual festival stalls sell almost no frivolous / quirky food and souvenirs, the noise level barely ever goes up, and each element of the festival is just lovely to observe – the colorful costumes and beautiful mikoshi a feast for the eyes. While the ema (small wooden plaques for wishes or prayers) at the Tagata Shrine come in various very explicit variations, there is only one motif at the Himenomiya Honen Matsuri – and last year it showed breasts, but it shied away from spread legs or bent over bodies. Even the vulva shaped stone doesn’t get much attention and isn’t recognizable as such if you don’t pay much attention.
If you are ever in the Nagoya area in early / mid-March I strongly recommend visiting both festivals, if possible. The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri on the Sunday before March 15th is a busy yet halcyon event for the whole family with only a slight sexual connotation, while the *penis festival* on March 15th of every year is one big sausage fest, a party for everybody old and drunk enough!

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Sex sells. Especially in Japan. Well, sex and quirkiness sell in Japan – and the latter one actually a lot more, at least in advertising. But despite having one of the lowest birth rates in the world (220 out of 224 according to the CIA World Factbook), Japan is obsessed with sex. Not at first sight though. At first sight the country is all about temples, shrines, concrete buildings and neon lights. But if you dig deeper and have an eye for details, you’ll understand why Japan is famous all around the globe for bondage, tentacle sex, bukkake, (the not existing) worn underwear vending machines, *love hotels* (that alone is a 50 billion USD business!) and the borderline child pornographic lolicon – not to forget the *quirky sex museums*!
Mostly untouched by puritan Christian morals for centuries (until Japan sucked up to the West during the Meiji Restoration and succumbed to the Allied Forces in 1945) today’s Japan is widely oversexed and underfucked, a prime example being the co-called herbivores; young men with “a non-assertive, indifferent attitude towards desire of flesh” according to freelance writer Maki Fukasawa, who coined the term in 2006. Yet there is this 50 billion dollar love hotel industry… Which makes Japan the North Korea of sex lives – mysterious, full of contradictions and with some serious amount of covered-up pain!

Anyway, let’s focus on the century old traditions for now – one of them being the Hōnen Matsuri (or hounen matsuri, 豊年祭), literally the „prosperous year festival“, celebrating the blessings of a rich harvest and all kinds of prosperity and fertility in general; and for promotional reasons often called penis festival, because… well, sex sells better than harvest and fertility. Who cares that it is actually not the phalli that are worshipped, but the power of the earth to regenerate? Symbolized by penises, because… well, probably nobody would travel for hours to look at a pile of dirt being carried through a small town.
Like the number of sex museums in onsen towns, the number of those fertility festivals is declining, the most famous one being celebrated at the Tagata Shrine in Komaki, a suburb of Nagoya, just a short walk away from Tagata-jinja-mae Station. (There are also similar festivals in Kawasaki on every first Sunday in April (Kanamara Matsuri at the Kanayama Shrine) as well as the slightly less phallic Bonden Matsuri in mid-February in Yokoteand and the Kawatari Bonden Matsuri in mid-May in Tagawa.)
The exact history of the Tagata Shrine and the Honen Matsuri lie in the dark, but it is assumed that shrine is more than 1500, the festival at least 650 years old.

Last year the Honen Matsuri started at around 10 a.m. at the Tagata Shrine with some preparations and celebrations, including the usual array of festival food stands. While chocolate bananas are popular at public festivals all over Japan, you can imagine that they sell especially well at a penis festival – especially at those stands going the extra mile by carving the tip of the banana and adding two marshmallows to the bottom. Sex sells, especially at a phallus festival! And of course 95% of those bananas were used as accessories for photos before being eaten… and so were tons of other penis shaped items for sale, like candy dicks and phalli carved out of wood.
At 1 p.m. celebrations began at the Kumanosha with the blessings of the procession participants as well as the portable shrines (mikoshi, 神輿 or 御輿) and the gigantic wooden penis (280 kg heavy and 2.5 meters long) carved out of a cypress. At 2 p.m. the parade to the Tagata Shrine started there, lead by chanting priests carrying banners and followed by a demon called Tengu; musicians playing traditional gagaku music also join the procession. And if a gigantic wooden penis carried by chanting and dancing men wouldn’t be enough to go nuts, the centerpiece was accompanied by countless helpers handing out free snacks and sake to everybody who wanted a cup… or two! Traditionally clothed women carrying 60 cm long wooden phalluses proved to be extremely popular amongst the watching crowd, altogether thousands of people. All of those women were 36 years old, which is considered an unlucky age that requires spiritual intervention. (The men carrying the giant phallus were all 42 for the same reason.)

The parade was supposed to arrive at the Tagata Shrine at 3.30 p.m. in 2013, but with all those happy people it took a little bit longer, so the who schedule was delayed by about 20 minutes. At around 4 p.m. people came together at a central square of the shrine, where the mochi nage was about to begin; a rice cake throwing ceremony, in which the crowd was showered with special mochi. You might know table lychee sized mochi as small soft sweets, but those at the festival had the consistency of clay and looked more like a big dumpling with the diameter of a CD – nevertheless the crowd went crazy over catching one of them. Sadly I have to say that this was mainly the fault of the countless foreigners attending the festival. While most Japanese attendees kept standing in place just trying to catch one of the dangerously heavy sweets thrown by officials from elevated platforms, a lot of the foreigners kept pushing and shoving; some even starting arguments. It was quite embarrassing to watch, to be honest – just because you’re at a penis festival doesn’t mean you have to act like a dick! (Officials actually asked women, children and elderly several times to leave the area to avoid getting hurt by the impact of the rice cakes or the rest of the crowd!) In the end there were rice cakes for maybe one in four people, yet when the ceremony was over, I saw single foreigners with up to seven of them, some of them carrying them in plastic bags… (It was also very apparent that the amount of foreigners attending the festival was a lot higher than the nationwide average of three percent.)

When the mochi nage ended, so did the festival – most people hurried to the nearby train station, others (like myself) had a last minute snack… or got their injuries treated at one of the ambulances. Most people who were actually there for the serious aspect of the festival, not the spectacle, prayed for successful pregnancies and bought good luck charms in the morning, but the shrine continued to offer those services to the remaining guests, while about two dozen helpers stored the gigantic wooden penis in the main shrine…

But why in the world did I write this report now, after spending several weeks on writing about North Korea? Because the Honen Festival is held every year on March 15th, which means that the next one will be in less than two weeks from now – just in case you are in Japan and interested in joining. Going last year I actually had to take a day off to attend as the 15th was a Friday in 2013, but that also means that the Penis Festival will be held on a Saturday in 2014 and on a Sunday in 2015; which won’t hurt the numbers of people joining for sure!

Finally a word of warning – the following photos and videos will show quite a few phalli, but there is absolutely nothing pornographic about them. Traditional? Yes! Commercial? For sure! Artistic? Definitely! But not pornographic… Enjoy!

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