Posted on Friday, March 20, 2009 | 0 comments

Last Sunday, we went to the Honen Matsuri (matsuri means 'festival') in Komaki, near Nagoya. Every March 15th, they celebrate this fertility festival there. Check out the Wiki article on it if you'd like more background. Basically though, it's a fun yet rather harmlessly perverted time. This festival has been going on for ages, but it seems to be mostly a tourist attraction now. (I've never seen more gaijin ('foreigners') in one area at a time!
The festival starts around 10 am at Tagata Jinja (jinja means 'shrine'). Tagata Jinja is itself worth the trip, just to see the penis bell and the big wooden (no pun intended) phalluses inside the temple. Apparently, couples often come here during the year to pray for fertility, the health of their baby, etc. I was told that it's usually a rather quiet, smaller town, but on March 15th, the place looks like Carvinal is about to take place. There were a lot of the usual festival food stalls-takoyaki, yakitori (grilled chicken), corn on the cob, corn dogs-no Japanese festival is complete without corn dogs for some reason--yakisoba (fried noodles), and then there were the not-so-usual food stalls at this festival. The dipped bananas, typical festival food, had been turned into little penises on sticks, as had the grilled sausages. (Side note: the plural of 'penis' is indeed 'penises', although most of us agreed that 'peni' sounds much better)!

Other decidely odd stalls were selling spun-sugar penis or vagina suckers in beautiful pastels, labeled as 'husband and wife' candy. For 400 yen (about $4.50), you could get a 3-pack: 2 penises and a vagina! Don't ask me; I have no idea why they were sold as such an arrangement but it led to quite a few bad jokes, in any case!

After touring the stalls and buying a couple of suckers before they sold out, we got into a really long line leading towards the back of the temple. It's honestly amazing how many people will line up if there's a line without knowing what it's for! This one turned out to be for a chance to rub 2 stone of them was supposed to bring fertility, and the other health, or something like that. In my opinion, it really wasn't worth the wait just for a couple rubs, but we did get a chance to view the penis bell while we were waiting.

There was also a really strange guy hanging out (almost literally) near the line....I guess he's at the festival every year, and he kept whipping out this huge red ceramic penis and posing for pictures with it. He was quite entertaining, but it was a little disturbing to see how happy he seemed every time he pulled it out!

Around noon or 1 (I lost track of time), they started a drum show in the shrine square, but it was too crowded to see very much. We snapped a couple of pictures by holding the camera above the crowd that actually come out halfway well. Around this time, the penis-bearers (more on that in a minute) lined up and headed out to another shrine, where the parade would be starting.
The parade starts off with a huge penis banner and that there are some of the town leaders, and (this is not in order) some women and men carrying wooden penises. Apparently the unlucky age for women is 36, and the unlucky age for men is 42, so people of that age participate in the parade every year. It's still considered an honor for women to carry a penis (originally it was thought to protect them or something). A Tengu (Japanese god or supernatural creature) also makes an appearance, along with a sake cart. The sake cart has a fake tree with pink leaves growing out of it, and volunteers pass out free cups of sake to the crowd. Needless to say, our group made quite a ruckus in order to get some sake. We were on the wrong side of the road for the parade (note: if you're going to attend this festival in the future, make sure you're on the same side of the road as the procession, since for some insane reason they only close one lane and thus keep traffic going down the other lane), but a couple kind and brave women crossed the lane, ignoring the sound of police bullhorns telling them to stay put, in order to give us some sake. It was of a pretty decent quality, too!
After the sake cart came the garbage cart, for the plastic sake cups (Japan is clean, what can I say). Then came the highlight of the parade....a giant 2.5 meter (13 feet) long wooden phallus, poking out from a portable shrine like a pig in a blanket! The penis is carried by a bunch of drunk men, and they weave back and forth as they proceed, some of the weaving intentional and perhaps some of it not!

The papa penis is followed by a group carrying another smaller penis on a wooden pole, not too sure about the significance of that one. By that point it was pretty much penis overload, though.
....The parade concludes at Tagata Jinja, and around 4 pm or so, the mochi-throwing begins. Mochi are Japanese soft rice cakes...only the mochi they were throwing seemed more like rocks. A bunch of city officials (or whoever?) in ceremonial costumes come out onto a second-floor balcony and stand by their piles of mochi as an announcer gets the crowd prepared. 'Take off your glasses; you're brave if you leave now' etc etc. Before the mochi is thrown, they throw pink leaves or flowers into the crowd (I was too far back to see which). Then, the pelting commences! Rumor has it that noses have been broken during this part of the ceremony, ouch. Nobody seems to know the significance of throwing mochi to the crowd at the end of the festival, but my guess is that it dates back to the original meaning of the festival, which was 'rich harvest', along with fertility.
We stayed to watch the rice cake torture for a bit but then took off for the mass exodus began. The festival ends around 4:30; all in all, a wonderful day!!!

----We drove to Komaki, but if you take the train from Nagoya, here are the directions:
From Shin Nagoya Eki (Station), take the Meitetsu Inuyama line to Inuyama Station. Once you're at Inuyama station, tranfer to the Komaki line and travel back south. The third station is Tagata Jinja Mae ('in front of Tagata Jinja'). Get off here and walk west, then turn south (left) on the main road.