Sunday, March 23, 2008

Festival + Phallus = Epic Proportions

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.

I never, in my life thought I would be exited to see a giant penis. But I found myself on a street in a little town outside of Nagoya waiting for a giant wooden “man stump” to make its way through. Now let me explain, last Saturday we went to the Tagata Honen Sai Festival. Yeah, that's right we had come all this way to see a penis festival. Every year on March fifteenth, Tagata Shrine in a small town north of Nagoya holds a fertility festival dedicated to bringing about a bountiful harvest. This festival is one of a few of its type in Japan. We learned about it from some of the other English teachers who live in our prefecture, and decided that this was not something to miss out on. So we made plans to go to Nagoya. Is peer pressure what lead me to stand on a sidewalk at two o’clock in the afternoon waiting for a fourteen-foot phallus to be paraded down the street?

No way! I live for experiences. We will only be in Japan for about another four months, or so before we find a new home in a new place, so we have to make the most of our time. I mean come on, who doesn’t want to see a mammoth member being carried along the streets of semi-rural Japan. We traveled the two hours by train to this little town and we were going to have fun. We were greeted upon our arrival by the sight of the souvenir stalls. This is not an unusual sight at a festival or shrine. But the gifts that they were selling at this particular festival were different. The first booth was filled with some of the usual sights and gifts, food. It is very common in Japan to bring small pieces of food; cookies, cakes, etc. back from a trip to give to friends, family and coworkers. I am not sure however if I would be comfortable giving some of these food items as a gift. I think that I would be okay giving a sucker that is molded in the shape of a penis to a friend as a gag gift, but to family or a coworker, never. Yet here they were, under the tent roof, giant multicolored penis lollipops. It was odd and interesting to my eyes when I saw many people, both male and female, enjoying them as the day progressed. We walked farther down the sidewalk and were greeted by another table of wares. This one was home to some hand carved statues. All of the carvings took on the shape of a penis. There were little statues with faces carved into the head. It was comical enough to get a chuckle out of us. We could not stand and laugh long though; the crowd began to push us along.

We followed the crowd as they lead us toward the first of the two shrines that we would be visiting. A large throng of people had gathered inside the shrine to catch an initial glimpse of the "sacred object". There were many people inside the temple precincts and it was difficult to see. We wandered around the inside and managed to worm our way into a position where we were able to view the oversized phallus. There it was in all its glory. Sitting in its portable shrine the two ends sticking out of either end. It did sort of look like a giant hot dog in a tiny bun. The best part was not seeing all the people, foreign and Japanese alike snapping pictures, but in seeing all the people waiting in line to have their picture taken with it. We toured the grounds of the shrine before making our exit to go and eat some lunch.

We wandered the parade route trying to find a good spot to park our buns and eat some lunch and view the parade. There was a nice walking path that would make a great spot to eat some onigiri and other snacks. We even managed to find a bakery where we were able to purchase some nice doughnuts. We found a spot and decided to stake it out as our own. We ate our lunch and waited. And waited. And waited. We slowly realized that we probably were thinking that the parade began earlier than it actually did. There were ten minutes till we thought that the procession began and there was no indication that it was going to begin anytime soon. We decided that it would be in our best interest to ditch our spot and take the time to explore some more.

We headed off on a happy trail to the second shrine. If we thought that the first shrine was crowded it was nothing compared to this one. Once we finally managed to penetrate the crowds of people milling around the outer edges we were in for even more of a treat. We found many more of the same types of food vendors we usually see at a festival. Only this time many of the foods had a penile twist. My favorite example would either be the chocolate covered bananas that looked like a penis or the frankfurter that had more of a definite wiener appearance.

We did our best to look around the shrine but it was very crowded. There were people everywhere and the situation was getting hairier by the moment. I was afraid that we would get separated and one of us might get lost. The first thing that I noticed while wandering around the area was the men who were doing a sword demonstration. They were dressed in the same style kimono that the ancient samurai wore. They were using their katana to make precision slices through a bundle of reeds that were rolled into a tube about the same thickness of a human neck. It was amazing to see them chop it into thirds with three quick movements. I watched as the last two swordsmen gave their demonstration. Then I looked around to see if I could find my wife and child who had wandered off. I found them staring at the various plaques. Every shrine sells a plaque that visitors can inscribe with their wish or dream for the future. The plaque is then hung in a special area of hooks. There are usually hundreds of them hanging on the pegs. It was no different at this shrine. I saw that only the plaque was different than what I was used to observing. I should not have been shocked at the picture that appeared on it. After all the plaque at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for the fox, features the illustrious kitsune fox on it’s plaque, and another shrine has a horse on it’s. So I should have been prepared to see the drawing found on this plaque featured a penis. What was a bit comical was the fact that some people had drawn additions to their illustration. There was one that added a smiley face to the tip. Another turned theirs into a panda, another was a dog, and they were all very creative.

We decided that the time had come to venture forth and stake our claim to a location to view the parade. We wandered down the parade route to find a good location where we would be able to see the, well, action. We hoped that it would not be long, but in truth we had no idea how long it would take. We eventually found a nice spot in the shade. Compared to the same weekend last year this day seemed like summer. The sun shone down on us warming our skin to the point that we did not need our coats. We could not have been happier because this very weekend one year ago it decided to snow. If this weather held it would make one of the most epic weekends as near perfect as can be. We stood in our spot and waited for the procession to begin.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

We have the same worship here, including stumps on the cars.