Kanamara a frisky festival for every Tom, Dick and Harry...without the Tom and Harry
KAWASAKI -- Thousands gathered here Sunday for the Kanamara Matsuri, an event with roots dating back centuries and now one of Japan's best-known fertility festivals.
Kanamara Matsuri, literally the Festival of the Iron Penis, had its beginnings in the Edo Period (1603-1868) with the prayers of women called meshimori onna, according to Wakamiya Hachimangu, the Shinto shrine in Kawasaki where the event was held.
Meshimori onna were women employed by the Shogun rulers of Japan during the feudal era to serve travelers along major roads such as the Tokaido that ran from Edo (modern Tokyo) to the ancient capital of Kyoto, with Kawasaki serving as a lodging spot.
Although the meshimori onna were supposed to serve only food, they also served themselves for a price, and it was their custom of praying to the gods that led to the festival as it is today.
Kanamara Matsuri is said to have positive effectives on business and fertility, increases the chance of an easy birth, heightens the possibility of finding a partner, boosts marital harmony and wards off sexually transmitted diseases.
The festival, which its organizers describe as being "relaxed and a tad different," is well-known internationally and attracts hundreds of foreigners every year.
A highlight of the festival involves transvestites and transsexuals carrying a penis-shaped portable shrine (called "Elizabeth," incidentally, after the name of the Tokyo gay bar that originally donated it to the shrine) and screaming out a chant of "Kanamara, dekai mara (Iron penis, whopping penis)."
The festival and shrine are also dedicated toward raising awareness about AIDS prevention. (By Ryann Connell)
(Mainichi Japan) April 7, 2008