Sometimes you set out on an adventure and at some juncture are tempted to turn back. For me, that moment was as I was about to disembark a train packed with foreigners in Kawasaki, Japan and heard an American holding a sweating can of Asahi beer bellow down the car, ”DICK FEST 2013!!”
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LAL and I had taken the long night bus to Tokyo with the wretchedly uncomfortable seats, intent on experiencing the magic of Tokyo Disneysea, binging on Chicago deep dish pizza and burritos, and attending a local festival, the Kanamara Matsuri.
The matsuri derives inspiration from a myth, and the myth begins with a woman. Before Lorena Bobbitt, there was a woman of Kawasaki who was cursed to have a demon residing in her nether regions. This somehow remained a non-issue until she got married and her husband attempted to consummate their union, whereupon the demon emasculated him. Undeterred, the woman went on to marry another man, with the same results. The future of her connubial bliss looked bleak, and in some other cultures she might have been consigned to being an old maid, or been completely dispatched from this mortal plane altogether. Instead, the local blacksmith took pity on the poor maid and forged an iron phallus to be inserted in her vajajay, at which point the demon chomped down and was pulled out by its teeth. The woman went on to lead a happy life. Women’s empowerment!
|The piece de resistance, a modest five feet high.|
The festival that pays tribute to this tale is both a celebration of fertility and an opportunity for local prostitutes to pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases and infections. By some accounts, the proceeds from the matsuri go towards AIDS research. Yet the real theme of the day isn’t fertility or sexual health and education or philanthropy. Rather, it seems to be: let’s look at penises and buy penis memorabilia* and have awkward photos taken of ourselves with said phalluses, or better yet, let’s take voyeuristic photos of other people, preferably scantily clad women.
|This young woman and her friends took turns posing on this terracotta penis with their penis lollipops as incredibly dodgy foreign men leered and took photos.|
|This man had created his own penis helm so that people could take photos with him. The foreigner on the right is attempting to lick the helmet.|
There were some things that I couldn’t explain: the cross-dressing men, the lone male foreigner in a deer costume with his girlfriend, or the parents who brought their toddlers. This last concern arose not so much out of Puritan values, but because of the sheer size of the crowds. The temple grounds were relatively tiny, like a small childrens’ playground, and people crammed into the area until it was impossible to navigate the throngs of people. You simply had to give yourself over to the flow of the crowd and allow yourself to be swept along, but not without a lot of jostling and elbowed ribs and shoving. Eventually it became too overwhelming, and LAL and I activated the escape hatch and headed back towards the train. We were a little sorry to miss the procession of the iron phallus, but we managed to catch a glimpse of it as we were pushed through the exit.
Though I’m glad we went, I would not feel the need to ever go again. Whatever the underlying meaning of the event in the past, today it has been hijacked by a lot of loud, bro-ish foreigners. Any indirect connection the festival may have had to female empowerment is long since gone. It’s entertaining, but the crowds make it impossible to enjoy even something as simple as people watching. And yet I gained yet another story to regale my nephew with one day: the time his aunt went to the penis festival. Hopefully it earns me cool points.
|The “biggest” seller at the festival: the penis lollipop.|
*T-shirts, erotic hand towels, pencil toppers, candles, candies, etc.