Kana Mara Sama
|STURGEON GENERALS FARMING: The following episode contains
material that would make Beavis & Butthead snivel in that annoying
way of theirs. And lots of really bad puns, too.
OK kids, gather around, because Uncle Jani is going to tell you a
Once upon a time, in a land not particularly far away from my
point of view, there lived a beautiful princess. Well, actually she
was an innkeeper's daughter, but close enough. But lo: an evil
demon with sharp teeth had taken a liking to her, and one night
the demon snuck into her house and crawled right up inside her!
Soon afterwards, our heroine was married, but then tragedy stuck.
On their wedding night, the new husband tried to perform his
conjugal duties for the first time, when the demon's sharp teeth
went "snickety-snack!" and the poor man was turned into an eunuch!
And the same thing happened to her next husband as well (the tale
does not tell how they conned the village idiot into marrying her).
It was clear that things could not go on like this, and the whole
village met to discuss the, shall we say, prickly issue. After extensive
deliberations, a candle lit up over the blacksmith's head:
"Why not," he said, "why not deflower the girl with an iron
phallus?" The metal tool was duly made and tested, and upon
chomping down the demon found that it had bitten off more than it
could chew; whimpering, it crawled out and slunk off to hide
in a dark corner and nurse its broken teeth. And they all lived
happily ever after, except the demon and the two eunuchs.
The end? Well of course not -- even back in the mukashi days,
the courtesans' guild knew a good idea for promoting tourism
when they saw one. The event was duly turned into a yearly
festival, known as the Kanamara Matsuri, where folks gathered
at a shrine in Kawasaki to venerate Kanamara-sama, drink,
party and carry on like at most Japanese festivals. And who,
I hear you ask, is Kanamara-sama? Well, it's not Finnish
for "Mr. President is the same as a chicken"; instead, it's
Japanese for "Honorable Lord Big Iron Penis". For all you
Finns, yes, "mara" is not only the affectionate nickname
for President Ahtisaari, it also means "big penis" in Japanese.
Interest in the festival has gone up and down over the years,
but lately excitement has reached a peak and Kawasaki has
started actively promoting the festival. It's still relatively
obscure and ignored by all guidebooks except Lonely Planet, which
does mention it but manages to get both the name and place wrong
(for future reference, the main ceremonies are on the Sunday
closest to April 15th).
Well, that's all very nice, but what's that got to do with me?
Why, it of course means that it's time for... drums, please...
<ANNOUNCER country=Japan sex=female tone="hyperactive TV announcer">
Yani gouzu tsu Japan, Dai-Yon-Kai: KANAMARA MATSURI SUPESSHHARUUUUU!!!
So on a sunny Sunday I packed my bag and set off down the Keihin
line. I was originally going to go with a friend or two, but I
figured that I'd meet more interesting people if I went alone
(which is generally my preferred way to travel anyway).
As soon as I got to Kawasaki, I noticed an abnormally high number of
gaijin in the train. Most of the people got off at the Kawasaki
Daishi-eki station, and by following the crowd and the thoughtfully
erected penis banners (yes, both interpretations of that phrase are
correct) I found myself at the shrine.
As far as shrines go, Wakamiya Hachiman-gu is definitely on the
small side, but on this particular day it was packed. The
composition of the crowd was somewhat surprising: perhaps up to a
third were gaijin, and most of the rest were either elderly men
or families with young children. Aside from the gaijins' Japanese
girlfriends (and very occasional boyfriends) young or middle-aged
people were almost entirely absent.
But on to the festivities! Standing proudly erect in the courtyard
were no less than three big phalluses. One, a rather dull-looking
if somewhat suggestively shaped log, was a representation of
Lord Kanamara himself; a second, beautifully sculpted from ebony
and waxed until it glistened, was on loan from the Hodare festival;
and the third, the largest of them all, was the definite eye-catcher.
Painted flourescent pink, it was not discreetly half-concealed
in a mikoshi (portable shrine), but it stood by itself on a
carrying platform. Why pink? And why were leather-clad and
heavily made up but not particularly attractive women clustered
around it? The answer was, once I realized it, obvious: the
members of the merry pink penis crew were all gay transvestites.
In addition to the mikoshi, the place was liberally endowed with
penises big and small, including several mondo logs in the courtyard
that every single gaijin except boring old me got themselves
Modern contributions notwithstanding, most of the festival
was still done according to the old formula and I arrived just in
time to witness the ritual blessing of Kanamara-sama's tiny lodging
and the sacred sake served to his devotees. Afterwards, (very)
young girls performed traditional dances and next it was time
for the ceremonial music. With a boy playing the shakuhachi (flute),
two girls using the smaller drums and a middle-aged man and the old
Shinto priest taking turns at the taiko (large drum), the quarter
proceeded to jam some astoundingly intricate rhythms for the next
4 or 5 hours non-stop! I actually recognized a few pieces from
my Kodo CD (Irodori, buy it now), but the bulk of the music was
a single long hypnotic piece repeated over and over, with no clear
end or beginning, just slower and faster parts. Noticing my
evident interest, one of the older locals came over to me and
started explaining the intricacies of the music -- in Japanese.
I'm afraid about 95% of it went right over my head, but yes, the
music did have good "ruzimu" and the speed of drumming did nobori
and kudari a lot.
Eventually enough sacred branches with paper thingies attached had
been waved over everybody and their pet dog Flippy and it was
time to get the procession going. Clad in ceremonial clothes,
many strong and foolhardy locals, plus a couple of even more
foolhardy gaijin, hoisted up the mikoshi (which weigh well over
500 kg) and started running around Kawasaki. For some unclear
reason, at every single turn and crossing the folks carrying
Kanamara-sama had to stop, put most people at the center to
support it, and then make a few people jerk the thing up and down
like a giant seesaw, complete with loud shouting ("Hii! Haa! Hii!
Haa!"). Shouting was the order of the day elsewhere as well,
with the Hodare team shouting what sounded like "Heissan!" but
was probably intended to be "Hie-san", their temple, and the
queer queens just chanting "Kanamara! Sekaimara!" (Iron Penis!
Global Penis!). I was actually invited to join the fun, but
quick consultations ended in the regrettable (if unsurprising)
conclusion that I'd have to amputate my legs at the knee to
fit in with the rest of the mikoshi carriers. Oh well.
The parade took well over two hours and was somewhat monotonous, so
I had plenty of time to explore the other offerings of the shrine
as well. Like at all Japanese festivals, food stalls had mushroomed
around the area, but this time the souvenirs were a bit different.
Available at this veritable Penises'R'Us -- oops, this is Japan,
so that should probably be Let's Penis -- were such wonders as
"The World's Best Carrot" (batteries not included) and "The Wonderful
Mr. Cabbage" (an anatomically correct, if diminutive, Cabbage Patch
Person). I limited my purchases to a bag of penis-shaped candy,
suitable for tasteful omiyage at work (Finnish motto: "Maistuisiko
penis?"). And just in case you hadn't had your U.S. R.D.A. of
sexual organs yet, upstairs was a small (but free) sex museum
exhibiting yet more penis statues, their female equivalents,
Japanese shunga-e paintings, and so on. About the only interesting
item on display was an antique version of the Three Monkeys,
covering not only ears, mouth and eyes but two other orifices as
While attempting to relocate the mikoshi, I stumbled on something
more interesting (or at least different). I had thought that
Kawasaki Daishi was the name of the Kanamara shrine, but no,
it referred to an entirely different and downright gigantic
complex of Buddhist temples only a few blocks away. Zojouji (near
Onarimon-eki, Toei Mita line, Tokyo) is still the neatest temple
I've been to, but this came very close. Not only is the area
large and impressive, but I was lucky: for the first time, I managed
to arrive at the main temple hall right during a service. Better
yet, I arrived just as the sermon (which would have been
incomprehensible) was ending, so most people had lined up to be
blessed by the priests. While most monks were engaged in chanting
sutras, a few were drumming yet more hypnotic beats on a gong and
an immensely resonant o-daiko. I snuck in, instinctively curled
up in seiza, closed my eyes and let the intoxicating rhythm take
me away... astounding. Unfortunately, it ended all too soon.
Even without the ceremony, the temple would've been most impressive.
No austere Zen minimalism here; in the best Chinese tradition
the interior was all glittering gold, plush red, metallic and painted
figurines, in the centre a large fire tended by the monks and
incense wafting from all directions.
After this, returning to the small shrine was downright anticlimactic.
But I again timed my entrance right, the mikoshi were just returning
and it was time to start the party. Having encouraged themselves
with enough sake, several Japanese folks came up to thank me for
coming and some Western tree hugger came up to invite me to
the Yokosuka EcoSIG's Recycling Festival later this month -- had
I been in a more evil mood, I would've told her that I belong to the
"Pave the Earth" school of ecological thinking, but no. Presumably
made by the same company responsible for Russian subway announcements,
the P.A. system had been screeching instructions and disinformation
all day long, but when they announced that it was time for traditional
Japanese dance music I decided to negotiate an orderly withdrawal
to safer territory. Taiko music is good, and I can even stomach
enka or J-pop for brief periods of time, but Japanese folk ballads
are simply hideous. The dischords of the Kanamara Odori still
ringing in my ears, I set off back towards the station, perhaps
mildly disappointed but sure of at least one thing: I'd have an
interesting answer for the inevitable "So what'd'you do this
weekend?" questions on Monday.
[Ed.: I returned to Wakamiya Hachiman-gu later in the summer and took a
nice picture of The Big Thing himself. Take a look!]
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