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The Penis Festival in Kawasaki, Japan

The Penis Festival in Kawasaki, Japan
The enormous pink penis catches the light as I approach it. There’s no glint of shame as it exposes itself to the crowd. It’s the centre of attention, with throngs of Japanese people pushing to get closer to the engorged phallus. In a country normally so obsessed with decorum, it’s an odd sight.

Well, it would be an odd sight anywhere else in Japan, but this is the annual penis festival – the celebration of manhood that happens under the guise of a religious ceremony at a Shinto shrine. That’s right, blessed be the cocks here in the city of Kawasaki, about half an hour south of Tokyo.

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The shrine has been the place for people with penises in their prayers for more than four centuries. In the 1600s, this area was full of prostitutes and they would come here to ask for protection from sexually-transmitted diseases. Over time, people started coming to pray for fertility, long marriages, healthy births… and then (somehow) the penis symbology got twisted (sounds painful) to also represent a successful business and a prosperous life.

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Gongs and dongs. There’ll be one line of people waiting to pray inside the shrine right next to another line of people waiting to buy a lollipop in the shape of a penis. The traditional carving of the radishes into phallic shapes happens in one corner and in another are large wooden wangs that you can ride like a horse.

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Because of the reputation it has gathered over the years and the proximity to Tokyo, it’s extremely popular with ex-pats as well and foreigners make up a large part of the crowd.

But, in honor of the origins, the festival raises money for HIV research so at least it’s a good cause. For one day these penises get to shine.

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