It’s March, it’s fertility time! According to ancient Japanese Shinto rituals, Spring is the time to celebrate fertility, fecundity and rebirth. Consequently, fertility festivals in Japan abound around this time of year. Today, I’ll introduce you to two of the most famous fertility festivals in Japan: the Hounen Matsuri and the Kanamara Matsuri.
The fertility festival frenzy kicks off today, March 15 at Tagata Shrine in Aichi Prefecture. Today a 2.5 meter wooden phallus will be marched through the streets of Komaki, a town North of Nagoya. Where is this giant penis being carted off to? Down the street to Ogata Shrine, where the female deity of fertility resides. Here, the two deities will philander for a while in an event meant as much to celebrate a bountiful harvest as to promote fertility.
“Hounen” means bountiful year and refers to the agricultural roots of the area. The festival is to celebrate the fertility of the veggies as much as for its inhabitants. People from all over Japan attend the festival to pray for fertility, safe childbirth, or for curing childhood illnesses. Pregnant women will stroke a wooden phallus to ensure an easy, uncomplicated birth.
Ogata shrine holds charms and amulets in the shape of female genitalia whereas Tagata Shrine holds those of phalluses of all shapes and sizes. These amulets are offerings to the deities and were originally lent out to people, a pubic library of sorts, to bring luck. Those who borrowed the amulets would return them after their prayers were answered and upon returning the object, would donate another.
The Kanamara Matsuri, or Festival of the Steel Phallus, is held at Wakamiya Hachiman-gu shrine in Kawasaki, outside Yokohama at the beginning of April. This bawdy Shinto festival has its origins in the Edo period (1603-1867) when prostitutes would pray for protection against sexual diseases. These days the festival is used to help bring awareness to HIV and other sexual diseases. A giant pink phallus is paraded through the streets by transvestites (among others), you can play on a penis see-saw and you can even watch people carve penises out of giant daikon radishes.
Don’t worry, these are family festivals and plenty of children join in the fun too. So don’t be bashful. Instead, have fun and be fertile-the Japanese way!