What Is the Kanamara (Iron Penis) Festival?

A Shinto festival

The Japanese may seem sober at a first glance, but you must know more about their traditions to see a little bit how crazy they can go. If, while traveling to Japan, you stumble upon a crowd carrying a huge ten ft (3 m) pink statue of a penis, calm down: it is the Kanamara (Iron Phallus) Festival, 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).

This is a Shinto (the traditional animist Japanese religion) rite in which people of all ages participate in a parade, everybody sporting 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, you guessed... their penises dramatically enlarged! Hugging the giant wooden "organs" is said to bring you good luck!

The ceremony is headed by a priest that carries on the whole Shinto ritual. This festival celebrates the victory over a demon that lived in a woman's vagina and would bite off the penises of those trying to marry her! That's what it is said to have done to two men. The local legend says that a local craftsman made a steel phallus which broke the demon's teeth, leading to the enshrinement of the item.

The festival dates back to the 17th century, when Kawasaki was a station town along the Tokaido Road when …Meshimori Onna - a name meaning 'waitress', but which is actually the term given to prostitutes who serviced travelers along the Tokaido - began the Kanamara Festival. In this area, many brothels "bloomed" in the Edo (1603-1868) era, so the prostitutes would attend the festival to pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases (gonorrhea in particular) and prosperous business.

Currently, the festival raises funds for AIDS charities and attracts a curious mix of populations, including many foreigners (who outnumber the locals), childless couples praying for fertility and a large gay and lesbian community.

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