Date:
March 15, 2001

 

Right now I'm feeling: Good!

Right now I'm listening to: Utada Hikaru

Utada Hikaru -- Drama   

She's got a new album out and it's pretty darn good. "Drama" is kindof a departure from her usual R&B forte, but it's really good.

Honen Matsuri

"The Big One"

Posing with "The Big One"

Umm... yeah.

The Procession

The Crazy Mochi Nage

Souvenirs!

Honen Matsuri

There is a reason why some people list this festival as one of the top five things to see before they die. It is, perhaps, the single, most insane gathering of human beings and phallus paraphernalia on the face of the planet.

The main feature of this festival, aside from the river of drunken Japanese men and women that flood the streets of the small town of Komaki, is a 2+ meter long wooden phallus which is carried on the shoulders of shockingly drunken 42-year-old Japanese men. Wait.. before I get too bogged down with descriptions, I should start when we arrived at the infamous town.

We arrived in the small town of Komaki around 11 am. We immediately made a beeline for Tagata Jijya, or more commonly referred to by ignorant, disrespectful foreigners as "The Vagina Shrine" or "the place with all the dicks". We soon discovered that the shrine, in fact, did carry a large variety of objects of the phallus shape.. both naturally occurring and man-made. Surrounding the shrine were men and women in traditional costume preparing for the big festival.

There were some rather bad demonstrations of the katana sword, many women in kimono posing for pictures, and many priests praying in front of (or to?) a large phallus, chanting and bowing. Oh, yes. And of course there were a number of hand-pushed carts with barrels of open sake being distributed in little paper cups to the mass of people gathered there. Oh didn't I mention that before? Then I probably didn't mention that quite a number of elderly Japanese men were already stone-drunk. They reeked of alcohol and approached us speaking broken Japanese or more broken English. Each cart had a foot-long wooden phallus attached to the front of it, which was occasionally patted or stroked by a passing woman for good luck.

In a building adjacent the shrine rested last year's gigantic phallus in all its polished glory. Surrounding the giant phallus on shelves were a multitude of smaller phalluses which were donated to tagata jinja by women or couples in thanks for the supposed blessings the shrine and the phallus had conveyed to them over the years.

Outside, enormous baskets of mochi (rice cakes) were placed on platforms above the square in front of the shrine, set and prepared for the pandemonium which was to ensue at the outset of the festival (I'll talk more about this later).

Nearby, a plethora of festival stalls sold Japanese and Western foods as well as any sort of phallus item you could ever desire. Phallus key chains, phallus candies and suckers, frozen bananas, phallus manjyu (soft, bean-paste-filled cakes), and large, carved wooden phalluses to proudly display on your mantel at home.

It was amazing. It was Japan.

I feasted on a juicy hot dog and bought phallus candies and suckers for some friends back home and a key chain for myself.
When the time came, the masses walked up the hill to another small shrine, commonly referred to by ignorant, disrespectful foreigners as "The Penis Shrine". There in all its splendor and glory, rested this year's big, wooden penis in a palanquin. Hundreds of people posed for pictures with it. Some patted, stroked and even kissed it.

After some blessings by Shinto priests, the procession was ready to roll with dancers, traditionally garbed women carrying two-foot long phalluses, and lots and lots of sake. The procession had some really interesting characters.

At the center of the parade, the big, wooden penis was carried. These 42-year-old men were very, very drunk. They swayed and stumbled under the weight of the big, wooden penis and occasionally drifted dangerously close to the crowds of people gathered along the parade route. Music was played, people danced, and sake was drunk as the big, wooden penis made its way to Tagata Jinja. Shinto priests struck gongs, chanted, and threw salt at the crowd. It was truly a sight to behold.

We followed the procession to Tagata Jinja and when the big, wooden penis was brought to the front of the shrine it spun furiously in circles and finally rested before the entrance. Priests said more prayers. The ceremonies were completed and it was time for the final stage of Honen Matsuri, the Mochi Nage.

Hosting a Mochi Nage (or rice-cake throw) is the closest a group of Japanese people can get to inciting a full-scale riot without being arrested by the police. It is a curious Shinto practice where elderly people, who I see so often with backs bent pedaling their bicycles as if each cycle of the wheel would be their last, receive the amazing burst of stamina and strength to throw aside their children, friends and countrymen, for the chance at catching or scooping off the ground a tasteless, palm-sized rice cake. To say it was dangerous would be an understatement. Before the nage began, a person came on the loudspeaker and repeatedly asked that all children, elderly, and women leave the square. After it began, the shouting, pushing, and begging began and my friends and I were pushed back and forth and even down on the pavement. One of my friends was trampled (he was all right, 'cept for a sore leg). It was crazy. It was chaos.

During the aftermath of the nage, there was much proud mochi displaying and more shopping for phallus treats. Battered and beaten as we were, we headed for the train station.

If you're ever around Nagoya on March 15, be sure and stop by the little town of Komaki for the festival. Try the sake, stay for the parade, steer clear of the nage. You'll thank me.

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