The penis worshippers

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

The penis worshippers

  |   67 Comments

Kanamara Matsuri: Japanese penis festival in Kawasaki

The enormous pink penis catches the light as I approach it. There’s no glint of shame as it exposes itself to the crowd. It’s the centre of attention, with throngs of Japanese people pushing to get closer to the engorged phallus. In a country normally so obsessed with decorum, it’s an odd sight.

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

Well, it would be an odd sight anywhere else in this country, but this is the annual Japanese penis festival – the celebration of manhood that happens under the guise of a religious ceremony at a Shinto shrine. That’s right, blessed be the cocks here in the city of Kawasaki, about half an hour south of Tokyo.

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

Before I get to the thrust of the Japanese penis festival in Kawasaki (see what I did there?), let’s take a step back for a second. We should pay tribute to the origins of this annual event which is officially called Kanamara Matsuri.

The shrine has been the place for people with penises in their prayers for more than four centuries. In the 1600s, this area was full of prostitutes and they would come here to ask for protection from sexually-transmitted diseases. Over time, people started coming to pray for fertility, long marriages, healthy births… and then (somehow) the penis symbology got twisted (sounds painful) to also represent a successful business and a prosperous life (try telling that to Tiger Woods!).

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

Now, back to this enormous pink phallus. It’s actually one of three that are the centrepieces of the festival and it’s not even the most important. That honour goes to the slightly smaller (but still quite well-endowed) black iron penis which is housed in a small wooden temple on sticks. As the legend goes, back in ye olde days, a sharp-toothed demon hid inside the vagina of a young woman and castrated her husband on their wedding night. The iron penis was forged by a blacksmith to break the demon’s teeth and kill it! (Don’t think about this story for too long… in fact, let’s just move on.)

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

The Kanamara Matsuri Penis Festival

So, back to today, and the official part of the Kanamara Matsuri Festival each year in Kawasaki is the parade through the nearby streets where the three huge altars with the erect idols are carried by groups of worshippers. The footpaths are full of people who crowd around these mobile temples as the bearers chant and sing and shout and sway from side to side. There’s nothing particularly serene about this and it looks more like a Mardi Gras than a spiritual pilgrimage.

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

In fact, that’s the mood of the whole day. Nothing is taken too seriously. Whatever the origins of this festival, it is now one big party… just one where religion and cocks are mixed together (the Catholics don’t have a monopoly on that!).

Gongs and dongs. There’ll be one line of people waiting to pray inside the shrine right next to another line of people waiting to buy a lollipop in the shape of a penis. The traditional carving of the radishes into phallic shapes happens in one corner and in another are large wooden wangs that you can ride like a horse.

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

It’s all good fun and the penis festival staff (honestly, no pun intended) try to make it a fun event by encouraging the crowd to get involved. Because of the reputation Kanamara Matsuri has gathered over the years and the proximity to Tokyo, it’s extremely popular with ex-pats as well and foreigners make up a large part of the crowd.

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

enis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals

There’s hardly room to move and you often have to push your way through all the people. But, in honour of the origins, the festival raises money for HIV research so at least it’s a good cause. For one day these penises get to shine. But, hey, it’s tradition, right?

67 Comments
  • zoomingjapan | Apr 16, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I went there in April 2012, when did you visit?
    Looking at the people I’m sure it wasn’t 2012. There was no festival in 2011. So either you went this year or many years ago.

    I’ve NEVER seen so many foreigners in one place before. It attracts a lot of foreign tourists every year. Well, it IS a weird festival after all 😀

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      I was there about a week ago at the 2013 festival. There were certainly a LOT of foreigners. I guess it’s a pretty quirky thing that you want to see while you’re here. I got the feeling most of the gaijin were ex-pats living in Tokyo who popped down for the day.

  • Victoria | Apr 16, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Hilarious! If the Aussies or the Brits did this it would be offensive, but the Japanese have a way of making anything that could be construed as offensive, seem kind of cute 🙂
    Victoria recently posted..A visit to North KoreaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Exactly! What would the people of London think if a religious group marched a bunch of huge penises through the streets. Or don’t even think about some of those US cities and towns! There would be protests and lawsuits to stop it happening!!

  • Nat | Apr 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    If you had published this on April the 1st, I would have believed it to be a joke. How can anyone walk around with a penis on their nose and let photographic evidence be recorded!!?
    Nat recently posted..Shopping in Turkey : Ten Souvenirs To BuyMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:51 pm

      Ha ha ha… I can assure you it is for real. The strangest thing was just how casually all these respectable-looking people were sucking on penis lollipops and posing with giant phalluses and so on. I guess if you’re there, you might as well embrace it!

  • Francoise Armour | Apr 17, 2013 at 12:14 am

    Here in South Africa the religious and Mother Grundies would be hysterical with outrage!

    Nice pun there Michael: “you might as well embrace it”.
    Francoise Armour recently posted..StellenboschMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      Yeah, I think there are a lot of places where the people would be outraged. It’s funny how nonchalant the people in Japan are about it.

      • Richard | May 12, 2013 at 5:43 pm

        True, but they are also nonchalant about Hentai, which, featuring very young cartoon females, crosses the line. Then there is their penchant for school girls and juvenile facial features in Anime and real life.
        Would love to see this in Southern States of USA!!

        • Michael Turtle | May 25, 2013 at 5:12 am

          Well, yes, they’re all very good points. I guess the Japanese are used to things being a little bit ‘quirky’ like this. The US, on the other hand… oh, I can just imagine the cable news networks going crazy!

  • Emily in Chile | Apr 17, 2013 at 2:12 am

    It’s great that it’s for a good cause and that everyone just has fun with it, but I have to admit I don’t know if I would enjoy it! Those penis-nose glasses are a little too creepy.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..A whirlwind Moscow tourMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      The people do look a little creepy. Especially the ones you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be at a festival like this!

  • Audrey | That Backpacker | Apr 17, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    This is SOOO strange! If you ever make it to South Korea, check out the Penis Park in Gangwon-do. Though it might be a bit tame in comparison to this…
    Audrey | That Backpacker recently posted..Rural Cambodia by Tuk-TukMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      I feel like I should do a whole series of penis-related stories on the blog now 🙂 I will definitely check out the Penis Park when I make it to South Korea. It looks weird…

  • Jennifer | Apr 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Weird and hysterical! I can’t even imagine such a festival in the US. We’re far too prudish for something like this!
    Jennifer recently posted..Wine Wednesday: Malbec World DayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      The Americans would hate this! But you’ve got to remember that this is a country where grown men sit on the train reading porn cartoons and nobody bats an eyelid.

  • haroon | Apr 19, 2013 at 2:34 am

    i cant belieave

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it either!

  • Sofie | Apr 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Reading through the articles I jsut kept on thinking: “This can’t be reeeeaaal???!!!”
    It’s just weird.
    It actually shouldn’t be weird, as we’ve all seen a penis before and stuff, but still, it’s weird:D
    Sofie recently posted..Finding THE sneakers in Breda, and then not buying themMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      I tend to think we haven’t all seen penises like this before! Especially ones carried through the streets of Japan! 🙂

  • The GypsyNesters | Apr 19, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    Oh. My. 😉
    The GypsyNesters recently posted..The Yin and Yang of Parasite “Kids”My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Exactly! Sometimes there are just no words…

  • Gibson Goff | Apr 20, 2013 at 2:00 am

    Way, way back in my head I have an odd memory of this – I first learned of it as an adolescent, reading what else – Playboy. I thought it was just all part of the 60’s-70’s counterculture, free love times.

    Now I learn it’s a standard cultural event.

    I think I need a brain scrubber . . .

    *As much as I enjoy festivals of all kinds, I don’t think I would want to buy anything from the guy with the thing hanging off his nose! :-))

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Well, ‘standard’ is probably not the right word 🙂
      How interesting that they were writing about it that far back. I only heard about it recently – but I guess that’s what happens with blogs and social media these days.

  • flip | Apr 20, 2013 at 4:29 am

    wow, this is a bit strange (and hilarious) but seems like the Japanese can always pull off something strange and awkward and make it look cute lol…
    flip recently posted..Top 15 Philippine Travel Blogs for 2013My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Yeah, it really did feel cute. Even though there was something extremely weird about it – and potentially offensive for some people – it just came across as being cute!

  • Cam @ Traveling Canucks | Apr 22, 2013 at 8:41 am

    What the what?! Man, talk about timing! Be honest, you bought a little souvenir to remember this special day… didn’t you?
    Cam @ Traveling Canucks recently posted..Photo of the Week: Colourful Hawaiian Sunset on MolokaiMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      I thought about getting a souvenir but didn’t want to lug it around in my bag for months and months. I’m not sure how I would explain it to customs people in some of the countries I’m planning to head to… 🙂

  • Cathy Sweeney | Apr 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Always learning something new from you, Michael. The penis nose is too much! I just visited Phallic Rock in Molokai, considered a sacred fertility site. Somehow I don’t think there are going to be any festivals like the Kawasaki festival starting up there.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Maui SunsetsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 1:09 am

      Of all the US states, it’s probably the most likely to have something like this… but still, I’m sure you’re right. I think only the Japanese can get away with something quite like this. And the nose!

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Apr 28, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Just when I thought I’ve seen it all 🙂 This must be the crazies festival ever 😛
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..Samabe Resort, Bali. The New All-Inclusive with Unlimited PrivilegesMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 1:24 am

      I’m sure there are some crazier ones out there (and I would LOVE to hear about them!) but this is certainly the weirdest I think I’ve ever been to!

  • Andrew | May 1, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Is that one girl holding a penis popsicle? Seems like that would almost be over the line.
    What a cool fest, though I think the crowds would keep me away.
    Andrew recently posted..A Few Days in CappadociaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 2:11 am

      Oh, there were lots of things that seemed over the line. I was so shocked when I first got there but then realised that everyone was just having a good time and not taking things too seriously.

    • nuzer | Oct 5, 2013 at 11:02 pm

      its is aa true penis What a cool fest, though I think the crowds would keep me away.

      • Michael Turtle | Oct 28, 2013 at 11:54 pm

        It’s certainly pretty crowded and that can get a bit annoying. But, then again, everyone really gets into the spirit of things and that adds to the whole experience a bit.

  • Cristina | May 2, 2013 at 3:28 am

    This is just like a hen night party in England.
    Cristina recently posted..Wildlife Babies: A Mother’s Day Photo GalleryMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 2:16 am

      Ha ha ha – maybe that’s really where the idea came from in the first place!! 😉

  • DK | Jul 17, 2013 at 7:23 am

    To me, the giant pink phallus looks circumcised, which is odd given the fact that virtually all Japanese men are “uncut”.

    By the way, Turtle, you are cute. I’d totally worship your penis! haha

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  • ckim Mbasa | Dec 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Hmmm…….. its my 1st time i heard of it. Many thanks to Turtle. Is there any story related to the Penis nose?

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 19, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      There’s no particular story about the penis nose. They just use the imagery for all sorts of things that can be sold at the festival – lollipops, glasses, keyrings, etc. The nose is just an example of that.

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  • George Pasteur | Dec 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    A festival celebrating the phallus is a great idea, but men need to show it respect every day; one way is by using a first rate penis health crème that can deliver amino acids and nutrients directly to the organ, helping to maintain its health.

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  • Jamesha Walker-Tenjinmon | Aug 20, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I don’t find it offensive at all. I would like to see the festival celebrated here in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and in California. I don’t know about the southern states…

    • Michael Turtle | Aug 26, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Yeah – not sure how the southern US states would react to this. But there is nothing offensive about the idea of it, I think. And the fact that it’s such a family event shows the Japanese don’t see it as something to worry about.

  • Austin mark | Nov 2, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Wonder they say will never end so funy seeing the children God created celebrating and worshipping penis. That the wickedness of man on earth. God have mercy on us all and save the people of japan and deliever them from this evil demon.

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 7, 2015 at 10:48 am

      I don’t think most people see this festival as evil. If you read the back story then you’ll see that there is an important meaning behind it. Half the people on earth have a penis and it’s a neccessary thing for the continuation of our species!

  • ph1204 | Feb 21, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Do you remember around what time the festival begins? I search around but can’t find much information. Thanks!

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 3, 2016 at 7:21 am

      Hi there. From memory, I got there around 10am and that seemed to be a good time to arrive the festival goes all day but the parade was in the mid morning and you don’t want to miss that!

  • Will Campbell | May 7, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Kawasaki, Japan,… Brings new meaning to the old Kawasaki motorcycle commercials “Kawasaki lets the good times roll, Kawasaki lets the good times roll…”.

  • Chuanhu Tiu | Aug 13, 2016 at 7:30 am

    The Ladies there were horny during the festival celebration, also the gentlemen

  • Chuanhu Tiu | Aug 13, 2016 at 7:32 am

    The ladies and gentlemen there were horny during the festival…

  • HsanHsan | Nov 3, 2016 at 7:53 am

    interesting festival

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  • Eric | Mar 28, 2017 at 8:39 am

    I’ve been to Japan several times (Nagoya mostly because our friends live there) but had no clue they had a festival like this. Hey it’s a human body part that is required to reproduce so why not celebrate it. This celebration should go both ways in my opinion 🙂 I do 3d print busts, and statues every once in a while but not sure I’ll be dabbling into this area any time soon 🙂

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 2, 2017 at 10:55 am

      Ha ha. Well, if they ever need any more statues made, you could always offer your services. Your printing services, I’m referring to 🙂

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