Japanese artist and activist Megumi Igarashi, known commonly by the name Rokude Nashiko, made headlines two years ago when she was arrested for attempting to create a kayak modeled after her own vagina. The case is absurd for many reasons, but most especially when contrasted with the fact that every year, shinto priests march a 600 pound wooden penis through the city of Komaki in Aichi Prefecture. The two and a half meter long phallus dodges obscenity laws as it is designated an important cultural legacy. Igarashi’s vagina kayak, unfortunately is not afforded such privileged status.
The annual Hounen Matsuri, literally “prosperous year festival” attracts thousands of visitors from all around the world. Most attendees are drawn by a sense of comical curiosity, but for some the intentions are quite serious. Initially dedicated to a fruitful harvest, the festival now commemorates prosperity in other ways as well. It is especially popular for couples trying to conceive, a rising concern as the average age of conception gets higher each year.
Those expecting a solemn and serious procession will be surprised by the festive atmosphere. Event staff and visitors alike enjoy a playful, exuberant celebration of all things phallic. Vendors offer an assortment of chocolate dipped bananas cut to look like turgid members, candies cast to look like penises and vaginas, and luck charms carved with more detail than I care to mention. The parade itself includes miko, or shinto shrine maidens carrying smaller wooden phalli (about two feet long) while priests offer free sake to the people lined along the street. When the giant mikoshi carrying the penis of honor arrives at Tagata-shrine, the crowd gathers for the mochi nage portion, where priests throw white gooy mochi into the crowd. The symbolism seems self explanatory there.
While the event is sure to shock the sensibilities of some, here in Japan it is considered a family friendly event. Young children eagerly join in the festivities along with their families. The event is well attended by both men and women, young and old. The festival of fertility is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather a natural and important part of life – with a few good dick jokes for good measure.
Hounen Matsuri is held every year on March 15th at Tagata Shrine in Komaki, Aichi Prefecture. The shrine is accessibly by Meitetsu Komaki line, about 20 minutes from Heian Dori station on the Nagoya subway, Meijo line.