Celebrate All Things Penis at Japan's Kanamara Matsuri

Article by: Laura Mason|@masonlazarus

Mon April 25, 2016 | 00:00 AM

There is no stronger celebration of the Japanese joystick than Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Iron Phallus).

The story goes that in the 1600s, during Japan’s Edo period, local prostitutes would congregate at the Kanamara Shinto shrine in Kawasaki, where they’d pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. A more fantastic tale lies in the fabled “vagina dentata,” or toothed vagina, which supposedly castrated several poor young men on their wedding nights. The woman cursed with the toothed vagina (most likely a metaphor for syphilis, which was common then) went to see a blacksmith, who forged her an iron dildo in order to break the teeth of her inner demon, thus protecting the penis of her future suitor. The Kanamara shrine is dedicated to the blacksmith, and over the centuries sex workers have paid pilgrimage to the shrine to seek its powers of protection.

While this festival has a deeper meaning, it’s still a penis festival—and you won’t be disappointed if that’s what you came to see (though they won't be the real deal).

With all penis hats, penis puppets, penis floats, penis costumes and penis lollipops, you'd think it was the biggest bachelorette party ever. But in Japan during this celebration last week, nobody shies away from sex or the sex organs; you’ll see elderly Japanese alongside young couples seeking cures for impotence and infertility. Penis icons are not in short supply, with all shapes and sizes made from iron, wood and inflatable plastic.

It may be hard for outsiders to understand why the Japanese, a typically reserved people, go all out with the male sexual organ on this day, but as far as self-expression goes, this culture is all about one big release as opposed to lots of little ones.