Attending the Most Controversial Festival in Japan: Kanamara Matsuri

Okay. So the festival is only controversial to non-Japanese people.

This was a difficult video to produce.
The issue was answering the self-imposed question:
How do I cover the Kanamara Matsuri with style and grace?

By presenting it as it is. Japan is Japan.

I’ve heard rumblings of the seemingly bizarre where Japanese festival worship a giant penis. If you Google, Kanamara Matsuri, you’ll probably find images that’ll appear lewd to western audiences. Yes, that is a giant pink penis you see, but the celebration is less about the pink phallus, and more about the people in attendance.

I’ve been to many festivals in Japan, but this was the first festival I’d attended outside of my area. Until that day, I’d only attended festivals in the area where I live along the Miura Peninsula. It’s normal for me to be only foreigner in attendance. Indeed I was worried when I headed to Kawasaki.
Would the Kanamara Matsuri be a tourist trap celebration?

I loved it. It was an amazing celebration.

For the most part, the Kanamara Matsuri is played straight. Yes, there’s penis imagery everywhere, but the festival is conducted like any other festival you’d experience in Japan.

The festival is based out of the Kanayama Shinto Shrine in Kawasaki. If you visit it on any other day, it’ll have the appearance of your typical Shinto shrine with its own unique style of decoration.

So let’s talk about the production of the video.
The entirety of this video was shot using an IPhone 6S.
The beautiful thing about Youtube is that it empowers creators. All you need is a camera and a vision. I wanted to experiment shooting the entirety of a video using an IPhone. People do it all the time, even professional film makers; Steven Soderbergh once shot an entire movie using an IPhone 8. For something shot on the fly using a cellphone, I like the final product, but will always prefer anything I shoot with a DSLR camera. The only shot my video that isn’t cellphone footage is the time lapse of the Kanayama Shrine. I also have to get better at doing my voice over narrations. I feel the audio levels could be improved.

I think the most intriuging aspect of the festival is the LGBT component.
Japan is a hyper- conformist society. That much is obvious when you analyze the meaning of the new era of Japan that started this year, Reiwa (令和).

  • Wa (和) refers to peace and harmony. It’s the first thing I learned when I moved to Japan, the people are all about their Wa.
  • Rei (令) is new to me, but it refers to command and order.
    Learn more here.

The ascension of every Japanese emperor with a new era. This is what was chosen. Peace by command. Harmony though order. It might sound innocuous, but there are serious conservative undertones when analyzed holistically. Nothing goes against the social order and makes people crap their pants than Japanese men dressed in women’s clothes carrying a giant pink penis.

This isn’t a Pride Parade, they have those in Japan on another. This is a religious festival that allows the inclusion of Josou. Learn more about Josou.
It’s progressive as hell, and not something I expected.
Because there is a line to cross. Between expressing yourself and being creepy.
At the shrine someone showed up dressed in nothing more than ropes. He was covered up and excused from the festivities in haste.

Because of folks like this, I’m glad I didn’t bring my daughter. I can explain the penis imagery. I can explain the men in women’s clothes, but I can’t explain this. In understand that there’re folks that bring their kids to the festival, and I applaud them.
I would just rather not, but that’s just my perspective.

I’d consider this a definite MUST SEE in Japan. If you live in Japan or are visiting in April, this festival will be memorable. Like I said in the beginning, I love attending festivals. Something about the energy and the way locals come out to put on a party. They’re awesome. The Kanamara Matsuri didn’t disappoint.

2 thoughts on “Attending the Most Controversial Festival in Japan: Kanamara Matsuri

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