Let’s lighten things up, shall we?
This week I attended the 豊年祭り in Nagoya. This is a very popular event with foreigners (about 30% of the crowd each year, which is huge), probably due to its alternate name: the Penis Festival. Yep.
The Hounen Matsuri celebrates springtime, the harvest, and fertility — both nature and, well, human. It’s a lighthearted festival, a good way for people to unwind after a long winter — or, in this case, a series of natural disasters.
I’ll start with the food:
Those are bananas, with marshmallow, ahem, accoutrements. The sprinkles provide the final touch, I think. These stalls were everywhere, and let me tell you, they were POPULAR. People of all ages were eating them whilst giggling hysterically and taking photos. One group of young guys and their girlfriends, maybe in their early twenties, were having a riot.
I don’t like bananas, alas, so I couldn’t partake. There were also sausages and various candies. I’ll update later with those, as I didn’t have time to take photographs in the street.
Next, the souvenirs:
This was hand-carved, given to me for free by the guy who made them. I asked if he wanted money or donations, but he said no.
These are common at every shrine; you write your wishes and hang them. Usually, though there are pictures of zodiac animals or happy people or cranes. NOT TODAY.
Any shrine worth its salt has its own special omamori, or protective charms. The ones here are a little more unique than most.
Next, the shrine:
Tagata Jinja is where the giant phallus comes to rest at the end of the festival. As such, its gardens have a certain je ne sais quoi.
These rocks are usually people or monkeys or dragons.
I don’t think I need to describe this one.
These strips of cloth are for good luck; the shrine has many, many of these branches, all of which will be stripped bare by crazed luck-seekers in the final moments of the festival. I got mine without bloodshed, thank you.
Next, the meat and potatoes, if you will:
When praying, you customarily bow to the centre of the shrine. Sometimes there are figures or totems, like foxes for Inari. These are a little weirder.
Taken under duress, this one. I was happy just to have photos of the main event on its own, but a very enthusiastic Japanese man insisted I stand next to it. Then he and a bunch of other Japanese men started shouting “Touch! Touch! Touch!” My Japanese friend jokingly called it ‘positive sexual harassment’. The best part, though, had to be all the Japanese tourists whipping out their cameras to take photos of the foreigner and the giant phallus.
The point, though, is that touching it will bring you good luck.
My father says this makes him think of Dune: The Porno, and now I cannot unsee it. The spice must flow, indeed.
In any other country, holding up your infant to kiss a giant phallus would probably get you a call from social services. Here, everybody cheered.
Next, the procession!
A quick note: it’s between 500-1000m between the two shrines, and it takes nearly 2 hours to get from one to the other. This is because the procession only moves about 15 feet at a time, if that — partly so as many people can touch the phallus as possible, but also because it is darned heavy, and the 10 or so guys carrying the mikoshi can only hold it for half a minute at best.
The procession begins! The guy with the megaphone calls out to the men carrying (one, two, three, LIFT! one, two, three, MOVE!), and also to the crowd (back! back! stay back! move aside please!). When he told everyone to widen the gap because it wouldn’t fit, I nearly lost it. I am mature, yes.
Do these ladies have the best or worst job? You decide.
I’d make some sort of joke about this, but I’m afraid I’ll get shut down. Let’s move on, shall we?
There is no title text associated with these images for a darn good reason…
Bringing everything to the shrine for the finale. In about 30 seconds, there will be nothing left on those branches.
The phallus mikoshi, making its way to the final stretch of the journey.
At this point, the polite Japanese descend into a band of absolute madmen as they rush to get shots of the mikoshi entering the shrine.
Yes, this does mean what you’re thinking.
And finally … the mochi-throwing.
At the end of the festival, men up on balconies toss rocks, I mean rice cakes, down to the crowd below. This picture was taken before the throwing started, so it does not come anywhere near to showing the chaos. Men with megaphones warned children, people wearing glasses, people holding children, and the elderly to get out of the way, as they could be injured in the mad grab. Why they bothered with the elderly I don’t know, as they were by far the most violent! I was in the back, on the very periphery, and still got knocked down, shoved, punched, and elbowed in the face. At the end I saw a girl with blood down her back — not her blood, someone else’s!
And yes, I did get a mochi, but I gave it to a kid who’d been smacked in the head by one.
So there you have it! The Nagoya Hounen Matsuri. I’ll just note that when I called to see if it would still be running after the quakes, I was informed that yes, it would, but it would be a more sombre version in deference to the disaster. If this is the sombre version, I’m glad I missed the raucous one!
For more photos, check out my Flickr set!