Culture

Here's Why Japan Has a Yearly "Penis Parade"

The inclusive story behind Japan’s well-respected Kanamara Festival.

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Here's Why Japan Has a Yearly "Penis Parade"

The inclusive story behind Japan’s well-respected Kanamara Festival.

During the Festival of the Steel Phallus, known in Japan as Kanamara Matsuri, Japan comes together to welcome the spring and pray for “fertility, smooth martial relationships and business prosperity.” Playfully known as the penis parade, Kanamara Matsuri showcases everything phallic from cookies to the large Mikoshi, a large pink phallus that floats throughout the celebration.

During the event, people pray to the Kanayama shrine, which honors the divine couple, Kanayamahiko-no-Kami and Kanayamahime no-Kami, or the “protectors of blacksmiths and sexuality.” Generations ago, it became popular as a gathering point for prayer as it was where sex workers would pray for protection against sexually transmitted infections and bad fortune. Patrons would also use the area as a pit stop where they would receive services from sex workers. It space doubled as a place for people suffering from all ailments to pray safely at night. Eventually, people wanted a place to pray in broad daylight, no matter who they were. Thus, the festival was born.

Another legend, tells the story of a demon who fell in love with a woman and hid inside her vagina. Unfortunately for her husband, the demon bit off the husband’s penis — twice. The woman went to a blacksmith who created a metal penis  with the intention to break off the demon’s teeth. Since then, they’ve been commemorated through the Kanayama Shrine.

The shrines have since gathered a parade’s worth of support and have become a creative way to give back to underrepresented communities. During the parade, you can see men in drag carrying a large pink penis called the Elizabeth Mikoshi, donated by a drag queen club called The Elizabeth. As a way to remember those before them, all proceeds raised go directly to HIV research.

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