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Kanamara Festival. The sign says "love" | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
Kanamara Festival. The sign says "love" | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
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7 Things You Need To Know About Japan’s Phallus Festival

Picture of Alicia Joy
Tokyo Writer
Updated: 9 February 2017
Japan’s Kanamara Matsuri, or Steel Phallus Festival, is an annual celebration of fertility and reproduction, and it seems to become more popular every year, especially with tourists. The festival also donates to charity and is one of the few events that overtly welcomes the LGBTQ community. Here are seven things you need to know.

Kanayama Is A Fertility Shrine

The Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki where the Phallus Festival is held was historically popular with prostitutes, sex workers, and others in the ‘water trade’ who wished for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. People also prayed for fertility, to ease childbirth, and for improved couples’ relations. Today, the Kanayama Shrine is still a well-known fertility shrine and is popular among married couples hoping to conceive.

A sign at Kanayama Shrine raises STD awareness | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
A sign at Kanayama Shrine raises STD awareness | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr

The Legend of the Steel Phallus

The Kanamara Festival is based on a legend. According to myth, hundreds of years ago a demon fell in love with a beautiful woman. He was a jealous lover, and when the woman didn’t return his feelings, he sought revenge. On her wedding night, the demon hid inside the woman’s vagina and bit off her husband’s penis when they tried to consummate their marriage. When this happened a second time (with a second husband), the woman knew she needed to do something.

Ema (prayer plaques) contains wishes for children and improved fertility | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
Ema (prayer plaques) contains wishes for children and improved fertility | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr

She asked a blacksmith for help with her unusual problem. His solution was to forge a steel penis. With that, she managed to trick the demon into biting down and breaking his teeth on the steel. Defeated, the monster finally left the woman for good. While the legend has been around for a long time, the festival has only been celebrated since 1969. The steel penis, however, is enshrined at Kanayama Shrine.

Phallus statue at Kanayama Shrine | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
Phallus statue at Kanayama Shrine | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr

It Raises Money For Charity

By supporting the festival, you’re raising money for a cause and the community. All of the proceeds from the Kanamara Matsuri are donated to local HIV and AIDS research centers.

It Really Is A Completely Penis-Themed Event

The event sells all kinds of unique gifts, and almost all of them are penis-, vagina- or fertility-themed in general. There are penis-shaped candles, masks, sex toys, decorative penis ornaments, gag gifts, and more. One of the hottest sellers is the penis- or vagina-shaped lollipops.

Penis and vagina-shaped lollipops for the Kanayama Festival | © Stealth3327/WikiCommons
Penis and vagina-shaped lollipops for the Kanayama Festival | © Stealth3327/WikiCommons

There Are Penis-Themed Activities, Too

There are also plenty of activities planned to keep attendees entertained. Visitors can try and carve a penis out of daikon radishes, take photos while riding a giant wooden penis or sample ‘semen sake’ – you eat a piece of salty fish before drinking sake, which together is thought to mimic the taste of semen.

Craftsmen carving daikon (radishes) and carrots into phalluses | © Masayuki (Yuki) Kawagishi/Flickr
Craftsmen carving daikon (radishes) and carrots into phalluses | © Masayuki (Yuki) Kawagishi/Flickr

It Welcomes All Sexualities

The atmosphere at the Kanamara Festival is warm, welcoming and inclusive to all sexualities and orientations. It may be for this reason that it’s become popular with the LGBTQ community in Japan. In fact, the enormous pink phallus toted as a mikoshi during the celebration was donated by Elizabeth Kaikan, a drag queen club in Tokyo. Nicknamed ‘Elizabeth,’ the statue is carried by transgender and cross-dressing festival participants.

"Elizabeth" at the Kanamara or Phallus Festival | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
‘Elizabeth’ at the Kanamara or Phallus Festival | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr

It’s Not Just For Adults

The Phallus Festival is fun for people of all ages. Many parents don’t think twice about bringing their kids along, letting them pose with a man dressed in a giant penis costume or purchasing a penis pop for the walk home. The openness of the fun, festivities, and atmosphere are enjoyable without being crude or distasteful.

Kanamara Festival. The sign says "love" | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr
Kanamara Festival. The sign says ‘love’ | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr