Read Your Indulgence

Destinations: The Honen Matsuri – Penis Parade

April 13, 2015

Spring Has Sprung…In The Worst Way

You can always tell when it is spring in Japan: The birds are singing, the cherry blossoms are out, the penises are flapping in the breeze.
It’s called the Honen Matsuri and it will blow your mind.
But be warned! This is one of those very Japanese scenes where what you see is not what you are seeing. The Honen Matsuri is actually an agricultural festival with a heavy dose of shamanism. The native religion, Shinto, is a nature-y, tree-hugging sort of affair; to ensure a bountiful harvest, every spring the male and female aspects of the Shinto universe must successfully “join” before the farmers start planting seed.
Not surprisingly, the male principle is manifested in the shape of a fully-erect penis — if penises were eight feet long and weighed 620 pounds. Hewn from a sacred log each year, it is then loaded on to a portable shrine carried on the shoulders of men 42 years old (an unlucky age for men, fertility-wise), followed by a procession of 36-year-old women (the feminine unlucky age) holding arm-length phalli that spectators can rub for good luck. I’m not making this up.
This type of holiday-festival occurs all over Japan depending on when spring planting is to begin, earlier in the south, later in the north. One of the most famous is smack in the middle at Komaki, just a little north of the city of Nagoya. The story is similar for all of them: a god or divine hero successfully courts a goddess, but she stipulates that they cannot live together. Rather, whenever he wants to get marital, he must hoof it across town from his house to hers. The journey he takes is remembered today in the route of the penis procession; his house is the “male temple,” while hers is the “female temple” where all “joining” takes place.
And nothing like a good joining to get the party started. The penis-parade is just the start of a day-long festival at the Tagata Shrine. The sake is free and flows like water, and a market has everything that can possibly be penis-shaped, from key chains to lollypops (!!) to surprisingly elegant flower vases. Along the way you will meet a wild array of characters from Japanese myth, from red-haired “oni” to mischievous “tengu.” Have that camera ready because it gets so outrageous no one will believe you that this thing actually happens.

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