World Travel

In Japan for the penis festival

Bring on the schlong (Getty)
Bring on the schlong — this year's Penis Festival in Kawasaki

Penis lollypops at Japan's Kanamara festival come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For the timid, there are tiny pink wieners, maybe three inches long and only good for a quick fix. Throw down a few more yen and you can have the upgraded version, a smudgy six-inch block which will stand up to a few hours of solid licking.

The elderly lady standing across from me obviously doesn't do things by half measures — she's clasping a candy wang that looks as if it's been hacked off a psychedelic porn star. After unwrapping its plastic covering, she sheepishly looks around before sticking out her tongue and taking a lick of its rainbow-coloured glans, to the delight of her kimono-clad companion.

We're in the thick of a very unusual procession. Just in front of us, a pack of drag queens is hoisting a gigantic pink penis sculpture above their heads. It dwarfs every other nearby phallus, even the one made from black stone which is leading the parade. As the cross-dressing scrum makes its way slowly down the road, a gaggle of camera-wielding tourists jostle each other for prime photo positions.

This is the Kanamara Matsuri, one of Japan's most unusual and notorious festivals, which takes place on the first Sunday of April each year, just outside Tokyo in the city of Kawasaki. It's a penis-venerating celebration which originated in the Edo period of Japan (1603-1867), when local prostitutes would come to the small suburban shrine and pray for good business and protection from venereal diseases. Each year when Japan's cherry blossoms bloomed, these women would carry a schlong-shaped object through the streets before settling in for a picnic in the shrine's courtyard.

Fast forward to the present day and things are more or less the same — except for the addition of cross-dressing, European faces and a covers band churning through some of pop music's dodgier moments.

The drag queens, who are members of the Tokyo-based Elizabeth Club, have been participating in the festival for almost 30 years now. Chief among them is Atsuko Asano , who originally convinced the Kanamara shrine's priest to let her cross-dressing brethren join the parade.

"We came to this town and saw the festival, and thought we'd like to participate. I asked the chief of the shrine if we could come along, and he said it was okay," Atsuko says, then points to the giant pink penis. "About 10 years ago, we made this by ourselves. At first we had a small wooden penis but we destroyed it."

It's a striking contrast to religious events in Australia or the US; the drag queens are the heart of the party and seem to be welcomed by everyone.

"We are very friendly, very open. The female or male members of this shrine, or anyone else, can enjoy our company," Atsuko says.

Three women soldiers from the US Navy are trailing along with the drag queens. It's only midday, but they've been dipping heavily into the ceremonial sake. "We came here for the cock. My husband's in Iraq right now, defending our country, so it's the only cock I'm going to get," one of them slurs.

Another of the trio is returning for her second Kanamara Matsuri. She's come to the festival with a serious purpose in mind — to get pregnant. She's been trying for several years, and half-seriously hopes the festival can help her.

"I didn't get to touch the penis statue last year. But this year I'm touching it, I'm doing whatever it takes. I'm on a mission," she tells me.

The penis shrines eventually reach the temple and are set down with much fanfare, after which the temple officials stand on the steps and thank everyone for coming. The crowd spreads out through the grounds, which are draped in fully blooming cherry blossoms, and just about everyone who's old enough starts sinking prodigious amounts of alcohol from nearby stores. The drag queens dance, the priests mingle, the navy girls fall in the dirt and the tourists keep taking photos until things draw to a close several hours later.

Be sure to check out our photo gallery of the 2009 penis festival by clicking here:

Church ministers take note: this is religion made fun! Bring in drag queens, penis statues and crates of booze and I guarantee those dwindling attendance numbers at Sunday mass will shoot through the roof. The message might get a little muddied, but when everyone's having such a good time, who really cares?

Related link: take our Health quiz that tests your penis knowledge.

User comments
The festival is based on several things including fertility. Religion in Japan is so intertwined with daily life and other rituals that it doesnt seem obvious. People in Japan have no hang-ups about this, so why should people from other countries want to force there hang-ups on them? I am living and working in Japan, and many people just treat it as a bit of fun and a laugh. Why are people so worked up about it? you have things like Sexpo or something for all the new adult toys in many countries around the world but hardly any controversy except for Christians and Muslims.
what a hoot ! but why do the tranies want in I thought they were trying to pretend they dont have willy's
Guys stop fighting each other, it's not going to get any easier. Everyone was raised and taught differently and have differeny views. I myself can feel awkward around the topic of penises but I find it interesting learn history. The penis was part of the reason that you are here, and never forget the main reason you're here... your mother! Yes the Japanese may worship it, and yes there are people out there who are scared or ill-minded, but what can we do? Also, there is a story behind it (this could be the Korean one sorry) but it's about two lovers and the female was lost at sea. They threw penises carved out of wood into the sea to symbolise the love that they lost and could not have, and the children that they wouldn't be able to have. It's a love story. So be more round minded, and see all the different views others have.
Kanamara Matsuri is absolutely awesome! I've been to 2, when I lived and worked in Japan. I will be there in 2011 to join in the fabulously fun festivities and will be taking my partner with me!!! Don't turn this into a religious debate - religion has NOTHING to do with Kanamara Matsuri - it is TRADITION. Japanese people have no hang ups about their bodies, being naked or consensual sex - something we could learn from them perphaps? Relax fellow Aussies and remember 'love thy self'
Well, congratulations shaun for making this into a christian-bashing. I guess the story really wasn't interesting enough on its own merit and you needed write inflammatory things to spice it up. You are forgeting that object of worship is attached to every rapist, paedophile and sexual deviant out there and the victims of their crimes dont have the same love of that body part that you do. When you get old one day and you cant 'stand to attention' as it were, you will find out that there are more important things in life.
So it's bad to have a penis festival so people can have a good time and fun but it's not bad for your priests to stick their penises into children? Wow now you got me thinking there! Seriously before you go and make stupid religios comments how about looking at your churches and priests and what they do behind closed doors! Go the PENIS!
Can we have a porn festival with erotic pictures, especially so Joel can comment on them.I just bet Joel would love to place some religious ethics on (or in...) your bits.
This is why the Japanese get many more tourists and more fun things in their country, Australia is just so damned, boring... nothing at all here, and a tiny bit more, if you lived in maybe Sydney. Also for people like "joely, joels place" who say religion can help pregnancy, I don't care what beliefs you have, but for people like you to try and force your religion on us, you should go (do something i wont write here) All those prudes out there, and religions fanatics who say things like touching a giant plastic *** wont help them, who cares whether it helps or not, if the person wants to do it for their own reasons, let them i say. Also Joely, who wrote the Bible??? Oh thats right, it was a man who apparently "saw some guy" and decided to write about it, maybe he was hallucinating?? All i know is that, science and logic can explain everything (not scientology)
Its not even being conducted in Australia, all you Jesus freaks - how did we get here, Adam used his penis... You are all closet penis lovers anyway or you wouldnt read the story! Get of the grass.....get on the ***
ha all you nobs that take offance go back too la la land and let others have thair own lives the lord is not all he is cracked up to bee