In Kawasaki, Japan, there is a festival known as the Kanamara Matsuri or Festival of the Steel Phallus. Due to the odd and explicit character of this one-of-a-kind celebration centred around a gigantic iron phallus, it has drawn interest from all over the world.
Origins of the Kanamara Matsuri
The Kanamara Matsuri's beginnings can be found in the Edo era (1603–1868) when it was primarily attended by prostitutes for protection from sexually transmitted infections. The event, held on the first Sunday in April, has grown domestically and internationally famous and is today used to raise money for HIV research.
Japan, Edo period - Tartars Hunting in a Mountain Landscape. (1615). Cleveland Art. https://clevelandart.org/art/2015.504
The centrepiece of the celebration are three portable phallus symbols that is paraded through Kawasaki atop a mobile shrine. The phalluses are covered in numerous decorations, including flowers and ribbons. It is so big that it takes many people to carry it.
We must examine Japan's social, cultural, and political environment during the Edo period to comprehend Kanamara Matsuri's genesis. At this time, sexuality was strictly regulated by rigid social hierarchies in Japan, which had a highly stratified society.
The following are some critical elements that helped the Kanamara Matsuri develop:
- During the Edo era, prostitution was accepted and commonplace, frequently connected to particular religious rituals. Prostitutes were rumoured to frequent temples and shrines for protection against diseases and health favours.
- The temple was devoted to gods of blacksmithing, metalsmithing, and metal works who were thought to guard against STDs and encourage conception.
- A legend about a monster with a sharp-toothed vagina who castrated two young men on their wedding night was also linked to the temple. Ultimately, a blacksmith created a steel phallus that snapped the demon's teeth and protected future lovers from her wrath.
- The event became a celebration of sexuality and fertility due to the mythology of the demon and the steel phallus becoming entwined with the rituals of the Kanayama Shrine.
- In the 1950s, when Japan went through a post-war economic boom and a renewal of cultural traditions, the event underwent a resurrection. The explicitness of the festival was toned down to make it more family-friendly, and it garnered more popularity from the general public.
The Kanamara Matsuri is still a significant cultural event in Kawasaki today, drawing tourists from around the globe interested in experiencing this unusual and occasionally contentious celebration. The festival's beginnings may appear unusual or even taboo to some. Still, they illustrate the intricate relationships between sexuality, tradition, and religion in Japanese society.
(2007). Kanamara Matsuri 2007 (phallus festival). Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kanamara_Matsuri_2007_%28phallus_festival%29-crop.jpg
Visitors can buy phallic-shaped items like lollipops, keychains, traditional Japanese sweets and souvenirs during the event. Throughout the day, there are also several traditional performances and dances.
The sexual nature in the Kanamara Matsuri have caused some controversy over the years. Supporters of the festival counter that it is a celebration of sexuality and fertility and a significant cultural occasion for Kawasaki residents.
The Kanamara Matsuri has gained popularity as a tourist destination despite its controversies, attracting travellers from all over the world who are eager to participate in this unusual and somewhat forbidden festival. The festival's popularity demonstrates people's persistent curiosity about sex and sexuality. It sheds light on how cultural traditions influence how we perceive these complex concepts.
The Kanamara Matsuri's Potential Benefits for Sexual Education and Reproductive Health
By publicly celebrating sexuality, the Kanamara Matsuri can help to overcome the taboo and shame that frequently surround topics of genitalia and sexuality in many cultures.
The Kanamara Matsuri can play a significant role in promoting genital positivity and the normalization of genitalia in Japan, even though it may come across as controversial or even filthy to some. The following are some ways the event could be beneficial:
- The Kanamara Matsuri overcomes the taboo and shame that frequently surround topics of genitalia and sexuality in many cultures by publicly celebrating sexuality and childbearing.
- The festival may lessen stigma and foster positive views around sex and sexuality by normalizing these topics.
- The festival's emphasis on the value of reproduction and fertility may also help to reverse the current decline in Japan's birthrates. The celebration may help more couples have children and contribute to the country's population expansion by encouraging a joyful and positive attitude toward fertility.
- The event might also be a forum for conversations regarding education and sexual health. The festival may assist in promoting healthy sexual habits and stop the spread of disease by increasing knowledge of sexually transmitted infections and the value of safe sex practices.
The Kanamara Matsuri's Lessons for a More Open and Tolerant Society
In conclusion, the Kanamara Matsuri is a fascinating and distinctive cultural occasion that provides a window into the intricate relationships that exist in Japan between tradition, religion, and sexuality. It's vital to recognize the festival's contribution to promoting genital positivity, dispelling taboos, and creating conversations about sexual health and education, even though some people may find the festival's frank nature contentious or offensive.
Kawagishi. (2013). The penisman in Japan 2013. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/_yuki_k_/8626833189/
It is crucial to recognize and appreciate the diversity of human experience, including our sexualities and our bodies, as we work to create a more open and tolerant society. We may work toward a future where everyone can express themselves sexually without concern for stigma or shame by embracing the lessons of the Kanamara Matsuri and other comparable festivals worldwide.
About the writer:
The Giggeli Project creates penis shaped design objects to break taboos and provoke discussion on genitalia. The idea behind the project is to create products that playfully highlight everyday issues and make us think differently about them.
Kanamara Matsuri - Wikipedia. (2014, April 11). Kanamara Matsuri - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanamara_Matsuri
Hallett, R. (n.d.). How To Celebrate Kanamara Matsuri, Tokyo’s Penis Festival. Culture Trip. https:///japan/articles/how-to-celebrate-kanamara-matsuri-tokyos-penis-festival/
Kanamara Matsuri (“Penis Festival”) 2023 | japanistry.com. (n.d.). japanistry.com. https://www.japanistry.com/event/kanamara-matsuri-penis-festival/