Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Festival + Phallus = Epic Proportions (part 2)

Warning: This post contains frequent references to parts of the male anatomy not usually discussed in polite company. I will do my best to use terminology that is colorful, correct and proper without resorting to speaking like a sailor or a trucker.

It was not long before Logan began to grow restless and wanted to go for a walk. Jenny decided to take him for a stroll, to look around at all the different offerings at the food booths to see if there was anything fun to see and gawk at. After a few minutes they came back and Logan reported that he wanted one of his favorite festival foods, a Hello Kitty decorated chocolate covered banana with rainbow sprinkles. I said that it would be okay if he enjoyed a choco-banana after the parade. Jenny and I then started to discuss all the different crazy swag that we were observing in the area. I thought that it might be fun to have one of the plaques that were offered from the shrine as a little remembrance of our time. Jenny then stated that there was a special board that was being offered on this day that would be perfect. I had seen several people carrying around the pole that was decorated with two ribbons and a plaque. The ribbons were red and white and were tied to the top of the dowel along with two sprigs of dried rice shoot, and a plaque with a three dimensional penis affixed to it. I told her that that would be the perfect item to remember our day. She and Logan sallied forth once again to find the booth selling the trinket.

I waited in our spot patiently for the parade to begin. I could tell from the stream of people moving in our direction that the procession was under way. I worried that Jenny and Logan were not back from their errand yet. Just as I was about to give up hope that they would make it back in time to witness the spectacle they appeared from around the corner. Logan waving the streamer bespangled staff happily. They had managed to return just in time.

I could see off in the distance that there was a mass of costumed people coming our way. The first person, well lets say person, I saw when I looked using the zoom on the camera was a red faced demon. He was surrounded by a cluster of priests and other attendants, one of which was his standard-bearer. This was no ordinary banner though, which I am sure you have by now guessed. And if you guessed that the flag that accompanied the red faced demon bore the image of a penis then you score the points in this bonus round.
I reached over with both of my hands and used them to cover Jenny and Logan’s eyes. The penis on the flag was the most realistic portrayal of male human anatomy I have ever seen on a flag that was flapping in the breeze. Now to be honest I did not cover either of their eyes because I was to busy trying to snap the perfect shot of the flag because I knew that no one would believe my words and that I would need to have photographic proof. My words do not lie however unbelievable they may be.

The red faced demon and the penis flag were the first to make their way down the street. They were soon followed by a small portable shrine that contained some holy object which was locked away so we were unable to see. The interesting thing about this shrine was not the shrine itself, but the people who accompanied it. All of the men were wearing white clothes that had a very bed sheet appearance to them. They also had very large shoulders due to the giant shoulder pads that changed the proportions of their upper body, giving them a definite Quasimodo appearance.

It was not long before we were to see the main attraction. As the Large shrine made its way down the street I could see the sun reflect off the polished wood. There it was, a giant wooden penis, almost dancing down the street. The Phallus rested inside a shrine that was far too short and left the opposing ends poking out of the ends. The shrine was carried by men aged 42, which is considered an unlucky age for men in Japan. They lifted the shrine in the air bouncing the precious cargo. They would walk a dozen yards or so and then they would hoist the shrine higher into the air and spin it by running around in circles. This is obviously the best way to parade a penis down the street. Lift it into the air. Spin it around in a circle. Repeat.

The shrine made its way down the street and we watched it go. We could not watch for long though. We had to turn our attention to the 36 year old ladies, 36 is considered an unlucky age for women in Japan, who were following the shrine. Each of the ladies carried in her arms a smaller, more personal version of the phallus that just moments before had gone down the street. It was cocked in their arms like a baby. They were soon followed by a cart serving drinks, free drinks. I tried, but I was not able to grab one of the offered paper cups of sake. I should have been bolder and knocked down the people in front of me, but I was not that hard up for a drink. I also was once again busy trying to snap a picture of the people ladling rice wine into paper cups from a big wooden bucket. The free drinks were followed by another penis. This one was pointing straight up in the air and was being carried by two elderly men. They offered the opportunity to polish the knob to anyone wishing to. At one point there were three young women standing and waiting for their turn. The men carrying the phallus turned it on its side in order to reach it through the crowd. The young ladies giggled like school girls as they photographed their brave friend’s turn in touching the wooden penile sculpture. As she laid her hand on the wood the phallus was once again resurrected to its full height. The crowd burst out laughing, and the young lady who was responsible blushed as dark as I have ever seen a Japanese person blush.

This proved to be the end of the procession. We headed back to the shrine. While the parade was making its way to the front of the shrine, we were sneaking through the back. We weaved our way through the crowd to find an even larger mass of people waiting for the grand entrance. I moved my way as far to the front of the crowd as I could manage while Jenny and Logan stayed farther to the back. It was amazing to see all of the people gathered to see the entrance of a two-meter long penis. Even more amazing was the fact that I could understand what many of them were saying. This festival happened to be the first of the festivals that had the largest collection of foreigners that we have seen at an event here in Japan. It was wild, amusing and only a tiny bit disturbing to hear four or five different conversations centering on the giant penis that would be coming soon.

The parade once again drew near. All elements entered the grounds of the shrine in the same order. First the red faced demon and the graphic penis flag, followed by the smaller portable shrine, made their way through the parting crowd. The crowd erupted in a loud cheer when the phallic offering first entered. The men carried the shrine through the sea of people that parted as if Moses were leading. Once again the shrine bounced and bobbed along as the procession spun and circled with it. They then proceeded to march that wooden oscar mayer up to the door of the shrine. Many more cheers were called out as they entered the door of the building.

We then started to wander around the area, which was a difficult proposal. The sheer number of people gathered to see the shrine enter and enjoy the festive atmosphere made moving around difficult. We started to go in one direction but realized that it might be too difficult so we proceeded in the other direction. It proved to be a wise decision as this was the direction where the action was going to be. The next activity was going to be mochi throwing. Yes that exact same substance that a few weeks ago we witnessed brave women proving their strength with would be tossed off a two-story scaffold at the waiting crowd.

Jenny and Logan found a nice spot where they could watch out of harm’s way, but me, well I said, “Damn the torpeedos.” Once more into the fray, and I joined the gathered crowd. I did not have to wait to long, but each repeat of the announcement about how heavy and hard the mochi was and how the elderly and young children should refrain from participating, only made my anxiety grow. I looked out at the crowd and I saw the item that I should have brought if I wanted to catch some of the flying mochi. There far across the crowd I could see the arms of some elementary school boys holding aloft their baseball gloves. Now that was a good idea I thought to myself. Less of a good idea were the people I saw who were attempting to use a plastic grocery sack to net the airborn projectile. I could see how that would work in the end, the bottom of the bag ripping out and the mochi smashing into and breaking the nose of the catcher.

Eventually people did appear on the scaffold. One more announcement about how the elderly and young children should not participate in this dangerous event I began to wonder if I should employ the twelve-X zoom lens on my camera and move out of harms way, but the crowd was gathered to closely around me. I had nowhere to go. There was no escape. The people on the ledge began to uncover their piles of mochi and I began to wish for some hockey gear. The mochi started to fly. I wanted to catch one, but I didn’t. Catching it is said to bring good luck, or at least a broken finger or two. The mochi was about the size and weight of a hockey puck, maybe a little larger. Here it was flying out at me from a second story balcony like a slap shot. They were every where and my mind was made up to leave when the guy standing next to me got clocked in the head by a flying white hockey puck. I wandered over to where Jenny and Logan were standing in safety.

We figured that this would be the perfect time to visit the rest of the shrine. Jenny had had an opportunity to look around while I was waiting to take pictures of the other things and she was eager to show me a few of the gems. The first place that we had to see was the small shrine filled with offerings and many carved wooden phalluses. There were also the stones. Jenny had found that there were stones that looked like a penis. In fact there were more than one. We took some time to look at all the different rocks and stones that took on different shapes. Then it was time to enjoy a banana.

We had promised Logan a Hello Kitty chocolate covered banana. We walked over and picked out the banana that he wanted and we found an out of the way spot to enjoy it. We sat and giggled and laughed about all the things we had seen that day. Before long it was time to head back to the station and get on the train to head back toward home. It was at the ticket machine that we saw our neighbor Kyle, he had come too, and we had another good laugh with him. We then boarded the train and headed back to Nagoya Station.

We found Nagoya Station to be very big. It was amazing to wander around the upscale department store inside the station. We managed to find a perfect restaurant to eat some dinner at. Can you guess what it was? If you guessed ramen then you have hit a homerun. It seems as if we always eat ramen after a big adventure. After ramen for dinner it was time to go next door to the Starbucks for a Caramel Machiato. Then it was time to head home. We got on the train and headed back to Omihachiman. A few hours later we were back in our own apartment ready for a nights sleep before we headed off to do the whole festival again the next day.

Coming soon the bacchanalian event of the year: Sagicho. Mase!! Mase!!

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