In the village of Komaki, 45 minutes from the central city of Nagoya, there is a shrine devoted to the phallus. Each spring, the old and young alike come here to see an enormous wooden penis carried through the streets, to eat penis shaped sweets, and to make a penis-spirited wish to god.
The tradition is thought to have begun around 1,500 years ago. A springtime celebration, the "penis festival", or Honen-sai Matsuri, is carried out to bring fertility and a good harvest to the people.
The giant penis, centrepiece of the show
“Japanese people are more at ease with genitalia than others”
Jose Cruz (jcrus2000) is a Brooklyner who moved to Itami, Kansai region, Japan, five years ago. He has a Japanese wife and currently teaches English to children. He went to the penis festival to photograph the event.
The Tagata Jinjashrine (below) was used in the past as a source of spiritual protection for the people in the area. Although Jinja is apparently very calm throughout the year (except for couples seeking help with having children), every 15 March it's the scene of the Honen-sai festival.
All kinds of people attend the festival, they're all very easy going, there are no fights or rowdy crowds, even though many people are drinking and as part of the event, Sake is given out freely to people along the parade route.
Every year a new giant penis is made from hinoki (cypress) tree. It's 2.5 metres (13 feet) long and weighs 280 kilograms (620 pounds). It is made by special craftsman, using ancient tools and techniques. It represents the essence of unity of man and woman and of earth. The white cloaks worn by the men are used to symbolise cleanliness and holiness; only those wearing them are allowed to carry the wooden statue of the giant penis. They must be 42-years-old, which is considered by the Japanese as an age of bad luck.
Women carry small ones to protect them from harm or to help them with fertility. They must be 36-years-old, which is also considered an age of bad luck.
There are many vendors who sell all kinds of traditional festival foods. These include Takoyaki (a round ball made of flour with octopus inside), okonomiyaki (a food made from flour and vegetables on a flat grill), sweets, yakitori (chicken on a stick), oden (vegetable stew), beer, sake, corn on the cob and yakisoba (a kind of stir-fried noodles).
These symbolise a long penis so hence good life/health. But it's not a traditional thing, just another type of food to sell during the day's events.
These wooden penises were, in the past, given to people seeking help. Once things were fixed or addressed, it would be returned and often as a sign of gratitude, a new one was also returned. The penis in Japan is a symbol of strength and power and to some degree, protection too. There's also a vagina festival, which was held on Sunday (March 14). It's a small festival.
The statues are marked with engravings that show a donation to the Jinja by a company or person.
These are called ‘ema'. They are wishes that people put around the Jinja for their wishes to come true. At some point during the year, they are burned and the messages are sent to ‘god'.
I really believe that Japanese people are more at ease with genitalia than others; within the context of health, good harvesting, and something generally seen as positive. Japanese people love going to hot springs, where everyone's naked, so it's very normal and natural for them. There's no shame in being naked here. I'd also say that they are very open about sex and fertility. Especially middle aged and older men; to have a strong sexual appetite is a sign of good health!"
All Jose's photos are posted on his Flickr account.
The Tagata Jinja shrine