Honen Festival of Tagata Shrine in Komaki-City, a Shocking but Traditional Fertility Festival
Komaki is a small, quiet, industrial city just north of Nagoya, home to hard working salt-of-the earth type people. Not much happens in Komaki, and so that is why the annual Honen Festival, held on March 15th to celebrate fertility and renewal, and featuring an absolutely huge male symbol, is such a shocker!
Komaki is famous for the castle atop Mt. Komaki, originally designed and built by Oda Nobunaga, and for being the site of the standoff between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu prior to the main Battle of Nagakute in the year 1584. But this city is also famous for the annual Honen Festival, a rather visual event also known as “The Penis Festival” on March 15th. The event draws a particularly large number of women to it, Japanese nationals or foreign tourists and expatriates alike, armed with cameras and bursting out into loud laughter as the parades’ Main Symbol passes by: a large, two and a half meter long, 60cm thick, 400kg male appendage.
Ancient Tagata Jinja Shrine
Tagata Jinja Shrine dates back over 1,500 years and its grounds are home to several phallic-shaped items, both man-made or naturally formed ones. Despite its risqué image and symbolism, the festival celebrating fertility and renewal is a traditional cultural event, steeped in history and mythology. According to ancient legends listed in the “Kogo Shui” scripture (dating back to A.D. 807), “Mitoshi-no-Kami”, the agriculture deity enshrined therein, appeared and instructed local farmers to use hemp leaves, yarn and, among other things, a phallic symbol, as offerings to keep locusts away and ensure abundant harvests. In the olden days, such items of veneration were loaned out to couples wishing for children, to women hoping to find a husband, or to farmers praying for a bumper crop. Upon being brought home, the phallic objects were worshiped until the desired result was achieved. The item would then be returned to the shrine, but in times when the faithful loaner was especially grateful, another similar object, crafted as a token of gratitude, would accompany the original one, making the collection at the shrine to grow as time passed by.
Celebrations commence at about 10:00 AM within Tagata Shrine, where stalls sell phallus-shaped candies, key-chains, cakes and cookies, chocolate coated bananas, all manner of wooden-carved figures and insinuating souvenirs.
The procession is led by Shinto priests in all their finery sprinkling salt along the route for purification, followed by flag bearers and then about 60 men, all aged 42 - the unlucky age for men - dressed in colorful traditional festival costumes, and working in teams of 12, carry the huge male-symbol stuck in a portable shrine through the streets. This symbol has grown gradually larger in its years of tradition, starting from a humble-sized symbol attached to a straw man, to the 2.5 meter carving seen today. Checking if its bigger than the previous year is one of the activities that keep attracting lots of people to the festival.
The festival, although risqué and often full of innuendo, is also filled with fun, and some great photo opportunities and tales to shock your friends when you get home. You’ll be wanting to come again!
If you’re looking to balance things out, by the way, near by the Tagata Shrine is the Oagata Shrine where the objects of worship are… you guessed it, female genitalia!
Click here for the Oagata Shrine Page.
(Picture to the right: Oagata Shrine, with fertility rituals pairing those of Tagata Jinja Shrine)