The penis worshippers

This has got to be one of the strangest festivals out there. In the usually demure country of Japan, a Shinto shrine dedicates the day to penises!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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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.

Penis 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.

Penis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals
Penis 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!).

Penis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals
Penis 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.)

Penis 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.

Penis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals
Penis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals
Penis 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.

Penis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals
Penis 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.

Penis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals
Penis festival, kawasaki, japan, kanamara matsuri, weird festivals
Penis 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?

56 thoughts on “The penis worshippers”

  1. 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 😀

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  2. 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 🙂

    Reply
    • 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!!

      Reply
  3. 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!!?

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
      • 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!!

        Reply
        • 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!

  4. 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.

    Reply
  5. 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

    Reply
  6. 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! :-))

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  7. 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…

    Reply
    • 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… 🙂

      Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
  12. 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…

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
    • 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!

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

    Reply
  15. 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 🙂

    Reply
  16. The creative wisdom and depth of spirit of Japanese culture
    continues to excel . Also the sense of humour of the Japanese
    people is impressive . I had thought I would probably end my days without visiting the LAND OF THE RISING SUN.
    But now I think I’ll have to visit during this festival .
    Thank you for this coverage.(a courteous bow)

    Reply

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