Residence: Nagoya, Japan
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/23/12
Primary Language: Japanese
Other Language(s): English
豊年祭り in Japanese literally translates to “harvest festival,” though it is more commonly and colloquially known as the “penis festival.” It is a fertility festival celebrated on March 15th in Japan, celebrating the blessings of a bountiful harvest and all manners of prosperity and fertility.
My informant is a student in Nagoya, Japan, and attended the festival this year with her friends. The celebration started in the morning, when Shinto priests playing musical instruments paraded down the streets amongst booths selling phallus-shaped food items and souvenirs.
“There were penis-shaped lollipops, corn dogs, chocolate-covered bananas, ice cream, rice cakes, head coverings, and this rubber penis thing that you could attach to your nose, and this hopping penis figurine thing, and other things I can’t remember, but it was ridiculous. Everyone’s so casual about this too, just like little kids licking penis lollipops like it’s no big deal. It’s funny, because usually Japanese people are so polite and proper and stuff, and then they go out and have something like this, you know? [Laughing] But it’s nice to focus on something that’s so taboo normally, like hey, even if we try to ignore it, it still exists, you know. Penises exist! Sex exists!”
Everywhere, there are huge plaster and plastic statues of penises–tourists and other observers can often be seen climbing on top of them and taking pictures of themselves. The highlight of the festival is a massive wooden phallus carried from a shrine called Kumano-sha Shrine to another shrine called Tagata Jinja. On the way there, passerby are encouraged to touch the phallus for good luck, while Shinto priests trailing behind the phallus impart blessings and prayers. At Tagata Jinja, the phallus is spun furiously, and then set down again for more prayers. After that is the mochi-nage, whereupon observers are showered with small white rice cakes, an act evocative of ejaculation.
This festival obviously originates from an earlier era when bountiful harvests were vital to the survival of a Japanese community. It has since become more about personal fertility, what with Japan’s slowly decreasing fertility rate, with people going to the festival oftentimes for good luck, perhaps with the hope that Japan’s population will begin to pick up again. Nowadays it is also somewhat of a tourist attraction, with curious foreigners and people like my friend, who want to see a show of something so taboo, a strange phenomenon in Japanese society, which is generally so restrictive.