By Cal Widdall
Every year, on the first Sunday of April, a shrine south of Tokyo in the city of Kawasaki is bombarded with penises. Penises drawn on faces, penis lollipops, people in penis suits, penis masks and penis t-shirts, and two giant penises carried on mikoshi. For this one day of the year, in a country where genitalia has to be censored in any form of media, there are penises everywhere.
The festival’s roots can be traced back to the 17th century when, as the legend goes, a local woman’s vagina was inhabited by a toothed demon who would bite off men’s members. She was released from the curse by a metal worker who crafted an iron phallus to break its teeth and the nearby temple eventually became a place to pray to the gods for protection against such “demons.” We can only hope this is an allegory for the curing of sexually transmitted infections and not a terrifying glimpse of everyday life during the Edo period.
The modern day incarnation sees thousands of people flock to the temple for a day of quirky fun and festivities. There are still those who come to pray, but mainly for different reasons. The small wooden tablets you can see hanging in a couple of the pictures are prayers written by visitors, with the most popular wish being to conceive. Note the heartbreaking English sentence “We need baby! = :-)” on one of them.