Kanamara Matsuri 2018

In my last post, I talked about enjoying the unusual customs of other countries. Last year, I attended Kanamara Matsuri, a famous festival held yearly in Kawasaki, that celebrates all things penis. Since I’ve already discussed the meaning behind the festival (here if you care to read it), in this post I will focus on the experience of the day.

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Pre-crowd picture of the Mikoshi.

The early bird gets the worm.

I learned from my visit last year that it gets crazy busy even before the festival starts, so this year I aimed to get there early. This allowed me to enter the shrine grounds and get pictures before crowds started to throng. I got some good pictures of all the Mikoshi and their respective penises (Elizabeth, the large pink penis, the black penis, and the wooden penis). I also got in line for t shirts. I was there an hour before this stall opened, and managed to be at the front. The candy line was already crazy long, but knowing there are other candy vendors, I decided to focus on the shirts. When it opened I got two shirts, one for me and my husband, two keyrings, two towels, and a wall hanging. After, I also purchased a bottle of sake shaped like a penis from the stall next door.

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T shirt stall at Kanayama Shrine.

Kanayama Shrine.

Kanayama Shrine is a year round fertility shrine and is home to the legendary steel phallus (read my previous post about the meaning behind Kanamara Matsuri). Last year I missed a large chunk of the shrine out because it was so busy I couldn’t get round it all. Thankfully this year I saw all of it, including the steel phallus (which sits on a blacksmiths block), the main Honden (shrine hall), plus all the other penises that take up permanent residency at the shrine. The shrine itself is really pretty, a place I’d like to visit outside of the festival. During the festival, the grounds are packed with vendors as mentioned above. Here, you can buy t shirts, souvenirs, food, candy, candles, fundoshi (traditional Japanese underwear for men), tengui (colourful cloth usually used to wrap bento boxes), and other penis themed goodies.

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The steel phallus.

The festival.

The festival starts and ends at Kanayama shrine. Prior to the parade, which sees all three Mikoshi taken from Kanayama shrine to Daishi park in a whirl of people, drag queens, flags, and idol pop stars, they sit at Kanayama for visitors to see and take pictures of. Before they leave, a ceremony is held to bless each mikoshi. Shinto priests perform the ritual between the Honden and the Mikoshi. When the parade finishes, the mikoshi sit for a short time at Daishi park before being carried back to Kanayama Shrine in a similar fashion. The whole festival last around 6 hours, starting at 1000 and ending at 1600-1630.

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The parade entering Daishi Park.

Daishi Park.

Daishi Park is the other main site for the festival. Its a big, beautiful park, with one section littered with vendors similar to those at Kanayama. Here is a good place to watch the end of the procession, and pick up more souvenirs. If you want some of Kanamara’s infamous candy, here is the best place to get it, as it is less crowded before the parade arrives.

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Some cute festival goers and their penis candy at Daishi Park. 

Daishi Temple.

Since you will most likely have a bit of time to kill between the blessing of the Mikoshi and the parade starting, I suggest a visit to Daishi Temple. This is a stunning Buddhist temple just a 2 minute walk from Daishi Park. It has an interesting mix of Thai and Japanese architecture, a beautiful pagoda, soothing smells of incense, and a healthy selection of food vendors. Check out the place selling chocolate bananas. It’s busy on festival day but much less so than Daishi Park and Kanayama Shrine. Good if you need a break from crowds.

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The pagoda of Daishi Temple.

Pro (just the) tips.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your visit:

  • Arrive early: I already mentioned it, but aim to get there 1-2 hours early if you’d like pictures sans crowds.
  • Take cash: None of the vendors accept card as payment, nor do they take foreign tender, so be sure to get yen out before you go. Family Mart close to the station accepts foreign cards in its ATM if you get caught short.
  • Go to Daishi Park: do this before the parade. You’ll be able to buy candy without queuing, as well as other things like shirts and souvenirs.
  • Take the train: the festival gets very busy, and parking is at a premium. Trains will likely be packed but it’s still a better option than trying to park close by.
  • Get a good spot: you can follow the parade if you like, but it will be very busy so you may not see much. Best bet is to get to Daishi Park and save yourself a good spot. You can also do this along the parade route.

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Penis and vagina candy on sale at Daishi Park.

Spoils of war.

I bought a lot of shit. It’s hard to remember all of it, but I’ll try. We got:

  • three t shirts.
  • three keyrings.
  • three towels.
  • a wall hanging.
  • a bottle of sake.
  • two candles.
  • a large candy penis.
  • a tengui.
  • two penis pens.
  • two lucky charms.
  • a very large wooden penis.
  • a small wooden penis.
  • stickers.

My favourite, and probably craziest, purchase was the large wooden penis. My husband spotted it. The man told us 15000 yen (around $150USD), and was shocked when we said yes. He gave us free gifts to go with it, and insisted on taking a photo of my husband with it.

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My husband with the large wooden penis we bought.

Better with friends.

I attended the festival with my husband, and we met up with two of our friends, who happened to be going too. We had a great time with them, it made it that much more fun. Incredibly, after my husband posted a video on Instagram of the festival, his high school friend messaged him to say he was also there! we managed to find him at Daishi Temple, and my husband got to catch up with a dear friend he hadn’t seen in around 7 years.

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With my husband and friends at Daishi Temple.

Conclusion.

Despite the crowds, I really enjoyed Kanamara Matsuri. It’s fun, it does good (raises money for HIV research and is a good platform for the LGBT community), and you can meet a lot of interesting people. I hope to go yearly, and I recommend you attend it at least once.

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Two more festival goers. The guy on the right was very entertaining!

Getting there.

Kanayama shrine is only a short walk from Kawasaki Daishi station, a 5 minute ride from Keikyu Kawasaki, the city’s main interchange (take the Keikyu-Daishi line towards Kojimashinden, platform 3 at Keikyu Kawasaki).

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A cute Rilakkuma themed train at Keikyu Kawasaki.

Happy and safe travels,

Louise.

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