Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus)

Last year on Sunday, April 4th along with a travel group, I attended the world-famous Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus).  Also known as the Penis Festival, this celebration of fertility happens the first Sunday of April every year at the Kanayama Jinja Shrine, which houses the Great Steel Phallus. This year the festival will be Sunday, 4/3/2016. The shrine is located in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, near Kawasaki-Daishi Station on the Keikyu Daishi Line—only 22 minutes from Shinagawa Station. 

Kanayama Jinja Shrine -- from Flickr cc by Guilhem Vellut
According to legend, the Great Steel Phallus was constructed to exorcise a demon from a young woman’s vagina.  He had lodged himself there after she refused his romances, and used his sharp teeth to bite off the penis of any man who was brave enough to make love to her.  Out of concern, the townspeople constructed the Great Steel Phallus.  When the phallus was presented to the demon, he broke his teeth, and then immediately vacated the woman.

Fertility Festival Candy -- from Flickr cc by E Chang
Since then, many people visit this particular shrine to pray for fertility and protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).  Novelties such as the “King” and “Queen” lollipops (feel free to guess which is which), phallus-shaped pens, fertility idols, and faux glasses with penis noses are an offshoot to the meaningful, yet light-hearted celebration of the phallus.  

Fertility Festival Sake from Flickr cc by Guilhem Vellut
Foods fall under Japan's usual festival fare such as gyoza (dumplings), grilled squid, and even a kebab stand.  But as far as the novelties are concerned, their proceeds are donated to AIDS research.
The temple grounds themselves are quite small, less than a city block wide.  But the grounds are beautiful, nonetheless and mostly range among a palette of black and gold lacquer. 

Carrying the Mikoshi at the Fertility Festival -- from Flickr cc by Guilhem Vellut
I highly recommend making a quick stop to this festival during your stay in Japan.  The most interesting things you’ll see are the giant pink and black phalli paraded by shrine priests down the main road. 

Kanamara Matsuri Mask and Costume
You can even take a picture with a penis-masked man.  Regardless of its playful novelty, Kanamara Matsuri is still an outdoor festival, so you should still take some precautions:

Kanayama Jinja Shrine at Festival Time-- from Flickr cc by Guilhem Vellut
  • Arrive as early as you can.  This festival is world-famous now, so you'll see many non-Japanese among the flock.  When I arrived there with my group, a line snaked around the block, with officials directing the heavy pedestrian traffic.  And though the line moved fast, the wait was still pretty long—around 30 minutes.  We had arrived a little past noon.
  • Prepare for inclement weather.  The weather for the first weekend of April was not as sunny as we had hoped, which made the temple grounds quite muddy.  You won't find a lot of concrete, and the heavy crowd made it a little difficult to move around.  That being said…
  • Always be aware of the line that you’re in.  You will see two main lines at the festival—one to visit the Great Steel Phallus and the other to purchase the “King” and “Queen” lollipops.  The two sites were pretty close to each other, and the lines tend to overlap, which can cause some confusion, despite the officials’ diligence in keeping them separate.  Which leads me to my next point…
  • Keep your place in line, no matter what.  This point might seem a little vague, so I’ll keep it simple.  Because of the confusion mentioned above, some people may try to dispute with you concerning where the lines end and begin.  In my case, the line for the candy came from two different directions, and someone from the other line accused me of skipping!  Just remain calm, yet firm in your right to be there, and you will most likely be left alone as I was.
My last point is most likely common sense, but must be said nonetheless.
  • Meet back with your group on time, if you came with one.  My personal pilgrimage for the candy made me over ten minutes late for the rendezvous time, and my group had moved on to a restaurant at that point.  Luckily, I ran across a fellow member who had also been late, and we strolled down the nearby shopping avenue and took pictures with fellow travelers.  But, having not found our group, we decided to head home.
I’ll be going back this year and will take my own advice.  Hope to see you there!
If you are headed to the festival you may wish to explore more of the Kawasaki area. Check out the Odigo information and share any spot ideas, tips or photos from your journey! 

Thalia Harris