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