Heads Turn As Thousands Attend Japan’s Infamous Penis Festival

We don't know which way to look!

In the West, April 1 is April Fool’s Day. But in the Japanese city of Kawasaki, Sunday was Kanamara Matsuri, the annual penis festival, where participants worship a giant black phallus carried through the streets.

Carl Court/Getty Images

There were units of all sizes and colors on display, actually, from phallic popsicles and novelty noses to a giant pink member called “Elizabeth Mikoshi” donated by a local drag club. Tens of thousands of spectators flood the city, grabbing penis-shaped key chains, pens, chocolates and more.

chris mcgrath
Chris McGrath/Getty
Chris McGrath/Getty
Chris McGrath/Getty
Chris McGrath/Getty
Carl Court

According to legend, a demon possessed a woman’s vagina, biting any penis that would try to enter her. After her husband was bitten twice, the maiden went to a blacksmith and got a custom-made steel dildo. When the demon bit down on it, he broke his teeth and was vanquished. (Another story says the shrine was popular with sex workers in the 1600s, who would pray for protection from sexually transmitted infections.)

Held on the first Sunday of April since 1969, the Kanamara Matsuri, or Festival of the Steel Phallus, celebrates fertility and reproduction. In more recent years its also been used to raise awareness about HIV, STDs and male reproductive issues. Donations received at the event are used for HIV research.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.