The Japanese word for penis is “chinko”. I know this because I had to ask the woman behind me while I was waiting in the line to buy a penis-shaped lollypop.
“One penis, please.” I said, laughing as I gave my order to the vendor. I think that the drunk tourist standing next to me could have used this helpful bit of information, because his exasperated shouts in English of: “No, I don’t want just one penis. I want two!” didn’t go over very well.
My friends and I were at the Kanamara Matsuri, a fertility festival in Kawasaki, a city located between Tokyo and Yokohama. The festival is held annually at the permanent residence of the festival’s main attraction: a shiny black penis statue. The story supposedly goes that prostitutes during the Edo period used to pray before the penis shrine in the hopes that it would bring them good health and many wealthy customers.
Today the festival is held to raise money for Aids research and to provide an opportunity for men to become reacquainted with their ten-year-old selves. Two of my male friends took every opportunity to throw in a penis euphemism or joke, (as in “Look at that guy wearing that penis hat…What a d*ckhead.”).
What I found most surprising about the festival wasn’t the phallic-shaped vegetables or the random Japanese man wearing a plastic penis on his nose, but that in many respects the festival was just like any other religious festival in Japan. The morning ceremony involved monks in robes, praying before a heavily decorated shrine, a traditional dance performance by kimono-clad elementary school-aged girls and for the grand finale, a parade of sweaty men marching around the neighborhood chanting with a shrine hoisted over their shoulders. If it weren’t for the fact that kneeling next the monks in robes were men in drag and that one of the shrines was a hot pink penis the size of a small child, I’d say that the festival was sort of disappointingly ordinary. I mean, I wasn’t exactly expecting a surprise guest appearance by Lorraina Bobbet, but a sacrifice to the God’s would have been nice.
Although as the day wore on and people became progressively more drunk, things did get a little more interesting. I must say that American military men, giant penis-shaped radishes and copious ammounts of Asahi beer are sort of a lethal combination. You’ll have to use your imagination on that one, because the photos I took are a bit on the explicit side for this PG blog.
My favorite part of the festival came at the end of the day, when I was pulled up on stage to accompany the band in singing “Stand by Me”. I’m not the best singer, but by that time everyone was so drunk that it didn’t matter. I waved my Penis lollypop at the crowd and they waved their beers at me and cheered and it was another one of those magical, surreal, Japan moments where I found myself having difficulty remembering why I ever decided that I wanted to leave.