Whenever I tell people about Japan’s penis festival, there’s often a mix of disbelief, astonishment, bemusement, and amusement. Usually, in that order. Even my friends from Japan have a hard time believing me. But yes, ladies and gentlemen, Japan’s P-E-N-I-S festival is real.
Fair warning, there’s gonna be a whole lot of mentions of dongs and pictures of them throughout this post. So if curiosity took you this far, let it carry you a bit further, my friend.
Perhaps you think about Japan’s penis festival as one of those “Look at the crazy things Japan gets itself into, haw haw” sort of things. But for someone (me) who grew up loving Japan and had built up ideals of the country from decades and decades of watching anime and other Japanese media, the mere existence of this penis festival has made me love Japan that much more. When I learned about this years ago, I swore to myself that I’d attend a penis festival in my lifetime.
And lo and behold, dreams do come true.
WTF Is the Penis Festival?
Japan’s penis festival is properly called Kanamara Matsuri. It happens once a year in Kawasakidaishi in Kawasaki, usually the first Sunday of April. It typically starts at 11am day of and is free to attend and check out.
As you’d expect, it’s a gathering of people celebrating dicks of all kinds: statue ones, candy ones, candle ones, and even drawings of dicks. There is no shortage of imaginations running wild or phalluses at the penis festival (as you’d expect). Surprisingly, I didn’t see any real ones just flapping around like you would during the somewhat similarly themed and popular Gay Pride in San Francisco (though apparently the Hadaka Matsuri is kind of like that).
What Do You Do at the Penis Festival?
In my experience, the festival gets pretty nuts. Pun intended.
The truth is, the penis festival isn’t just a strange tourist attraction for bewildered foreigners. The festival is actually supposed to promote HIV awareness. It takes place at the Kanayama Shrine, where the centerpiece is this giant iron dong.
This iron phallus is a symbol based on the story around vagina dentata, or vagina with teeth. Legend has it that a sharp-toothed demon hid inside the vagina of the woman it had fallen in love with and deterred any would-be suitors. Ergo, they’d get their dicks bitten right off. In other words, it’s a metaphor about having STDs, which was common at the time. In order to fight this demon (and probably finally get some), she requested a blacksmith to fashion together this unbreakable ding-dong to, in turn, break the demon’s teeth. And so, the iron dick became a venerated item since…
For some, the festival is a symbol of fertility and a peaceful marriage. At one point, it was popular among prostitutes who prayed for protection against STDs.
It has elements of most festivals in Japan, but the penis festival is special beyond the obvious reasons. It’s more celebratory of LGBT culture, uncharacteristically expressive and overt of Japanese people, and a place where you can show respect by not taking yourself that seriously.
Throughout the festival, you just go to observe the mikoshi parades, watch some people dance, eat various festival foods, and high-five fellow attendees who are sucking on dick candy–whoa, come again?
Dick candy. You get to buy them. They come in various shapes, sizes, colors, and (presumably) flavors.
These dick lollipops aren’t just hilariously phallic; they’re straight-up edible dick molds. The entire time I was paranoid that I’d be caught on camera somewhere by someone with a freeze frame of me obscenely licking this lollipop. The one I bought didn’t taste like anything. Disappointing.
Unsurprisingly, the festival consisted of mostly foreigners like me who were really just keen on chortling at the spectacle and the quirkiness of it all (and making dick jokes). The most noteworthy thing is the famous “Elizabeth Mikoshi” which is a giant pink penis float and was apparently donated by a drag queen named…Elizabeth! Around noontime, it’s carried by men in drag to the shrine, where the street parade begins. The Elizabeth, along with one or two other penis floats, are carried throughout the streets at around 1p.m. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the pink float up close in person.
Overall, “nuts” doesn’t quite describe the energy, atmosphere, and the serious ridiculousness of it all.