KAWASAKI, Japan (Reuters Life!) - Huge pink and black phalluses were paraded down the streets of this Japanese town in an annual fertility festival, as some 30,000 worshippers asked for blessings and protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
The Kanamara festival, dating back over three hundred years when ladies of the night asked for protection from an epidemic of syphilis, was hosted on Sunday by a small shrine in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo.
Now its portable phallic shrines are known not only to locals but also to foreigners, who accounted for nearly half the crowd, and cross-dressers.
“There is the gay parade in France and around the gay world, but nothing with a phallus or things like this,” said Elizabeth Filipe, a 25-year-old banker from France.
“And people are not shy,” she added, as people posed with wooden phallic symbols.
Angela Wheaton, a 28-year-old visitor from the United Kingdom who was holding a penis-shaped lollipop, said attitudes appeared to be much more liberal in Japan than in Europe.
“You wouldn’t find a festival like this in the UK. Maybe in secret somewhere, but nothing like this,” she said.
The festival is now also held to help protect people from AIDS and supports a campaign to alleviate the suffering of AIDS victims.
Its core ceremonies remain mystical and date back to a time when even Buddhism had not reached Japan.
“In general, traditional Japanese festivals are not very accessible to foreigners, but this one is different,” said Kimiko Nakamura, the head priestess.
“There are people of all nationalities participating in this festival.”
Phallic worship is still common in Japan and can be observed in shrines through out the country, especially in spring.
Reporting by Toshi Maeda, writing by Yoko Kubota; editing by Sophie Hardach