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Browsing Posts published on April 3, 2007

Phalluses and Flowers

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This past weekend was both frighteningly weird and super cool. Scary because of the Kawasaki Penis Festival I went to, and super cool because I finally got to see what all the fuss about sakura/hanami is for.

Ari’s flight out of Japan was actually on Monday and not Sunday as he had previously thought, so I met up with him, Bryan, and co. on Sunday morning. What would cause me to get up early on a Sunday morning? We had plans to go to the Kawasaki Kanamara Festival (川崎かなまら祭), which is a somewhat famous fertility festival south of Tokyo in the city of Kawasaki. This is the kind of weird thing I have seen snippets about for years in travel books, Japanese crazy fact websites, and also on a few travel programs. Thus, I had to go to see this for myself. I was not really prepared for just how weird this event was. The festival has been going on annually for a few hundred years, but it is now complete with live music, performances, cross dressers, and food vendors selling various snacks in the shape of a male organ. I don’t feel like explaining much of the history of the festival itself, although Metropolis has a really good article on it which you can read here.

After our group arrived at Kawasaki Daishi staion (川崎大師駅), which is about 20 minutes south of Shinagawa, we followed the crowd down the street. We were less than a block away from the station when we heard drums and saw an even bigger crowd all cheering and clapping. They were looking at some kind of parade or procession. Then we saw it. I can’t really explain the feeling of seeing this in the middle of the road. I’ll just show you a picture and maybe you can feel some of the shock and hilarity that I felt:

Look closely

Look under the blooming sakura trees and past Ari’s head. Can you see it? Let me zoom in for you:

yep, a dong Yep, that’s a penis. A giant pink statue of a penis. And as we walked down the street it was bobbing up and down towards the temple area. Did I forget to mention that this is a legitimate Japanese festival tied to a Shinto shrine? So this was actually the mikoshi (portable shrine), a giant penis.

As we entered the temple’s courtyard area, you could see people all over the place with food shaped like penises; lollipops, popsicles, even bananas. It was really frightening since both women and men were eating these things. This festival also had a large amount of foreigners, who probably like us, were there just for the tourist aspect. There were all kinds of people at this festival, even tons of children. Seriously, why would you bring your kids to this place? So weird. This penis temple is also right next to a kindergarten, so I suppose this town is used to it. But still, kind of disturbing. One of the other mikoshi at the place was a smaller black penis inside a mikoshi-style roof.

About a half hour after we got there, maybe 1PM-ish, they started the live entertainment. Now, this wasn’t really some kind of dirty perverted festival so don’t worry, there weren’t strippers or anything like that. Quite the opposite. First up were hula dancers, all old women at least in their 60’s. Next was some band who played covers of songs like Johnny B. Goode and a ton of Elvis songs. There was a tarp in the middle of the temple grounds where a group of old men dressed as women were having a picnic. There were children dancing around with a drunk guy who was double-fisting beers. There was an old man in a cowboy hat carrying a little dog standing next to the US Confederate flag. Does none of this make sense!?!?! I hope not, since it didn’t make sense to me and I was actually there. Also the sakura trees overhead were blooming. Overall this was probably the weirdest place I have ever been in. I’ll put up a bunch of pictures later on my Pictures page, but for now here is a quick collage:
Weirdest time of my life
I hope that collage helps show you some of the absolute chaos that was happening at this small Japanese festival in Kawasaki.

After Kawasaki we headed up to Ueno Park for some hanami (花見), or flower-viewing. Japanese people are crazy about the sakura (桜/cherry blossom) flowers, and every spring when these flowers bloom for about a week or so the entire country tries to go see them. Usually “see” them means having a picnic under them and drinking and eating the entire day. It was around 4PM when we arrived in Ueno Park, and the place was absolutely packed. There were thousands of people coming, going, and sitting to see the trees. Most of these people were already wasted by 4PM. It was really interesting to experience, and the flowers really are beautiful. I kind of understand why Japanese people like them so much; especially in a place like Ueno Park where they have so many trees it looks like a white forest above you, it does feel a little surreal. And when the wind blows, the petals fly off and make a cool spring snow-type of image. Not much else to write here since it’s 5AM and I’m pretty tired. I will post some sakura pictures sometime soon as well, although for now I will finish this post with just 1 夜桜 (night sakura) picture, which actually looks pretty good, despite the fact that my camera takes terrible pictures in the dark:

Sakura trees at night in Ueno Park

Hanging with Gaijin Voltron

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I’m attempting to cover the highlights of the past two weeks or so, which was pretty much just one weekend (March 24~26).

Ari came to visit Japan about a week and a half ago, beginning his long Asia trip. Bryan was able to take like an entire week off from work, so he came down from Ibaraki 2 weekends ago when Ari got in. First night was spent pretty proper; Umaimonya (旨いもん屋) in Chiba followed by all-night karaoke at Utahiro with those two (Gaijin Voltron) and Blanchard. Everything was going fairly normal at karaoke until the door was opened and hallway singing began again. this guy groped my friendsThat was actually fine except for some weird drunk Japanese guy coming in and groping Brian and Bryan (see pic). He later returned a few times to put on terrible songs like Jack Johnson or some other stuff like that. We eventually got rid of him and he never came back.

I don’t know why I try to do all-nighters after waking up at 8AM and working all day on Saturdays, because I always end up getting super tired around 3 or 4AM and fall asleep. Anyway, at 5 we left the karaoke place and Blanchard grabbed a taxi back to his place. Me Ari and Bryan made the painful hike to Chiba station in anticipation of the first train. The post-all-nighter walk to the station wasn’t as bad as in the winter since the weather is warmer now. Unfortunately we were too tired to wait for McDonald’s to open at 6:30 for breakfast, so we grabbed the Uchibo Line back to Goi and crashed on my floor for a few hours.

After only sleeping for about 4 or 5 hours we got up and headed to Makuhari for the “Jumbo Flea Market.” Talk about disappointing. It was only in 1 hall of the Messe, which was actually fairly big, but the things that people were selling were awful. There was an overabundance of womens clothing and socks. None of the bikes, sofas, toys, or video games that I was hoping for. And no samurai swords to send home to my dad. Defeated, still tired, and now hungry, the 3 of us headed back towards Kaihim station. It was also now raining pretty hard, but luckily thanks to the covered walkways we were able to make it all the way from Makuhari Messe to Plena without getting wet until the very last leg, where we had to take a few steps in the rain. Along the way we were trying to decide on what to get to eat, and somehow all got in the mood for omurice (オムライス), which is a weird Japanese dish. It’s pretty much fried rice inside of an omelette, and many times this is then covered by either ketchup, curry sauce, or beef stew. And yes it is delicious.

Spend the day in Makuhari, playing in all 3 arcades and hitting up Carrefour. That night I had company-paid-for dinner with my school staff (thanks to some prize money from the head office or something), and we had decided on going to Taiyourou (太陽樓), that Chinese buffet in Plena. Ari and Bryan headed off to drink with Shin-san and a bunch of other Spring 05 IES kids who were in town for vacation/Kanda grad. Dinner was really good, although I was pretty tired after the previous night and the lack of sleep. After dinner and playing around in some arcades (again) with my co-workers, I headed out to meet up with Shin-san and everyone at a ramen shop in Shin-Narashino. After that we headed back to my place, stopping at Jusco on the way at Inage Kaigan because I thought they would have bath towels for Ari and Bryan to use, since I didn’t have any extras. Since only the grocery store section of Jusco was open at 11PM, they had no bath towels so they guys made due with what they could find: cleaning towels. They each bought a bag of towels to use the next day. Note to self next time I plan on having guests: get some real guest towels.

Good to be back at Y'sMonday we slept late and went to Kappa in Hamano for some binge sushi eating. That night was the main event; finally a return to Y’s in Makuhari. I hadn’t been there since August, and for Ari and Bryan it had been even longer. Had reservations at the usual center counter courtesy of an e-mail to Matsushita-san. It was a great time. Had a pretty decent turnout, with Duy and Minami coming and people Bryan invited from Ibaraki. Food and drink was of normal standards, with the fried food, salads, Pocky, Nikka, yakitori, random mystery meat, and the dessert tray near the end that caused every female in the place to jump and race to the buffet. After closing we just loitered outside the Techno Garden for a while before most everyone headed into Tokyo while I went home to crash since I had to work the next morning. All in all a successful Y’s night. If they’re open during Golden Week, I think I’m going to definitely try and organize another.

Most of the week following (March 27~31) was pretty much spent recovering from a long sleep-deprived weekend and also battling a slight cold. Ari and Bryan spent most of the week in Tokyo. Since I can’t really take days off, I unfortunately had to miss all that. This past weekend, however made up for it, since I met up with them again for sakura and also the weirdest festival ever. This post is already way too long, though, so I’ll put it in it’s own blog entry to follow.

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