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The Penis Festival

Written on: Wednesday July 30th, 2008

A journal entry from: Japan

As you can probably already tell from the title of this entry, the content is not for the faint of heart. Once a year, an otherwise remote and obscure town in northern Aichi-prefecture explodes into the frenzy of the Hounen-Matsuri, an annual fertility festival known to foreigners simply as, "The Penis Festival". Last year, to my utter and complete devastation, I was unable to attend due to work commitments (although many, many others with the same commitments opted to "fall ill" on said occasion?). I was not going to let that happen again.


An interesting note on this festival: the foreign population (and by that I mean English speaking, non-Japanese people) in my area is very small, considerably less than 1%. And yet the foreign attendance of the Penis festival is a rather disproportionate 30%+. Strange how such a festival would attract foreign gawkers.


This year the event fell on a warm spring day. I joined the line of spectators with a few friends and eventually found a good spot to watch the initial festival parade. The parade consisted of a procession lead by a scary-looking masked man, a sake cart (from which copious amounts of free booze where distributed), a group of young women whose unlucky age obligated them carry large wooden phalluses along the parade route for onlookers to rub for good luck, and finally the main attraction: a giant tree-trunk sized penis. Carried by a group of men with huge shoulder pads, the penis made its way (slowly) toward the shrine, all the while being spun in circles at every block.


Eventually the penis made it to the shrine where the massive crowd had gathered. But the fun didn't end there; soon came the mochi- melee, which may even have topped the penis parade. For those who don't know, a mochi is a kind of Japanese rice cake, but it's made from powdered rice and quite firm. They come in all shapes and sizes, but on this day they were about the size and shape of a slightly flattened baseball. The bizarre and dangerous ritual went something like this: a huge crowd packed into a square area to the left of the shrine which was bordered on two sides by elevated balconies. Atop those balconies stood festival officials and other such volunteers, each standing in front of a large pile of a few hundred mochis. On the leader's signal, these people began to loft/throw/hurl these cakes into the crowd.


It was mental (as you can see the video cuts out soon after the mayhem begins). Imagine standing in a crowd with baseballs raining down on you from all angles and directions. I spent most of the time with my hands up just trying to not end up with a broken nose (not to worry, medical staff were on hand). Others tried more aggressively to catch them (which was the whole point of the exercise?again, for good luck). Many hit my hands but bounced off, slippery little buggers they were, but I didn't catch any. Luckily my friends caught many, and gave me one so I didn't go home empty handed.


It's definitely worth a trip to Japan, and if you come for a few weeks in February/March, you can hit the Naked Man festival too, truly a double whammy.