The Japanese Harvest Festival (Hōnen Matsuri) has caught the imagination and interest of tourists for many years. This can be seen in the wide variety of people who flock to the Tagata Shrine on March 15th every year which is close to Komaki and just north of Nagoya. Its proximity to a major city makes the otherwise rather rural area quite accessible to visitors.
On the way to the festival, one is struck by the diverse faces which flood the trains. Discussions about what is known as the Penis Festival outside of Japan have made mainstream news in Italy, France and the UK over recent years. And this was clear by the assorted languages and regional dialects on the train. Is easy to understand why this event has become so popular.
From the outset people are provided with all you can drink sake and experience something which would be considered taboo in many more liberally inclined cultures. The sight of a 2.5 meter phallus which weighs in at 280kg is held up by several men who shout a traditional chant which is delivered when carrying a the hilarious version of a Japanese Mikoshi (portable Shinto Shrine).
The day is a strange mixture of tradition and intrigue. On one hand priests say their blessings during the parade, and bless the ladies with wishes regarding their fertility, and then throw powder over them. It is a marvelous sight which is repeated at the end of the festival in front of the main square. Priests then throw paper and powder into the crowd which is a form of luck for future children. However, priests, sake and large phalluses aside, there is much more to savor during the day.
The sight of Buddhist the O-Mikuji which is received once an offering is made is a reminder that this event is part of the community’s cultural pulse. But the hilarity of the day is only a bite away. The image of bananas covered in chocolate and sprinkles; to battered sausages with two large battered balls containing cheese is one which comes to mind. There is plenty on offer for those with a sweet and savory tooth. Fear not if phallus shaped objects are not your cup of tea. There is plenty of beer and fried and baked food available.
Lindsey Comeau’s is originally from the United States, but has lived in Japan for a couple of years. This is her first time at the Harvest Festival. ‘’I had heard about the event but I was still surprised by what I saw. It is totally mad. What was really fascinating was that there were people from all over Europe and Asia who had travelled there just for this event. I don’t think that Japanese people realise that it is as popular as it. Sometimes they have red faces when I talk to them about it’’.
Photo : Jose Cruz on FlickrThe event encapsulates what many foreigners have told me they think and feel when they leave Japan after a holiday or period working here. It is a country laced with paradoxes and contradictions. On one hand the kawaii culture (obsession with cuteness) and tradition (Buddhism and manners) is offset by a hunger to have a fantastic time and make the most of life. With that in mind I highly recommend this event to anyone who is lucky enough to be in Japan in March.