It was announced on the NHK TV news this evening that the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Trade plans to organise the first international “export” of the Tagata Fertility Festival to San Francisco, and then to Dallas later in the same summer. Depending on the success of the event, it may also be exported to other cities around the world in 2014, including Salt Lake City, Rome, and possibly Beijing and Pyongyang.
The Ministry of Culture and Trade spokesman, Yuki Wakabashi, hopes the festival can include local men from Tagata, a town near Nagoya city, as well as local men in San Francisco, Dallas, Salt Lake City, the Vatican, and other cities to assist in lifting the one tonne phallus.
I know today is significant (the second anniversary of the 11th March 2011, earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster), and so today is a double dose of Photo of the Week (POTW). One photo is a cultural event that is something to now especially look forward to and enjoy, and the other is commemorative.
The Tagata Fertility Festival photo below was taken just days after the actual disaster, and it shows people determined to try and enjoy life, despite the horror witnessed days before. Also on the day the photo was taken one of the nuclear reactors exploded. I didn’t know at the time, so I hoped that the wind was blowing away, and I really did have the feeling that being outside, photographing this event, might have been dangerous. I think I only learnt about the reactor explosion when I got home. I now have Reuters and other news outlets in my Twitter feed.
Below is a photo from the Nuclear Spring Collection I made just weeks after the actual disaster, see the Nuclear Spring blog search for previous posts. The title “Nuclear Spring” is significant, in that it amalgamates the concepts of Nuclear Winter, Silent Spring, and the time of year the Fukushima disaster occurred. Nuclear Winter is the supposed effect on the weather systems of the world after a nuclear war. Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson in 1962 that describes the effect on the environment after farmers sprayed and killed all the insects. This book is regarded as the birth of the modern environmental movement. Still today, thousands of people are protesting against the continuance of nuclear power in Japan (Japan Today, Reuters), and there is a wonderful blog that aims to provide information that the media does not, the Fukushima Diary.
This Photo of the Week is for the upcoming Nagoya fertility festival, held at Tagata annually on 15th March. The festival promotes having babies and families, and it’s also a place where young single people can pray that they find a husband or wife in the coming year. In a Catholic western tradition, all thought of sex is considered a sin, but oriental religions do not consider sex a problem, and so there is no shame or sense of sin associated in having such festivals. The public parading of a phallus is not a problem. Families bathe together, and everyone know what all the bits are, so there’s nothing to teeter about. So, without further ado, here’s a giant wooden cock.
Despite the recent tragedies, and the near 24/7 constant flow of bad news on the TV, Japanese people in central Japan were wanting to see the Tagata Fertility Festival, also known by many foreigners as the ‘Penis Festival’.
The Tagata Fertility Festival, Tagata Penis Festival, or Tagata Honen Matsuri is the festival that is becoming famous for the large wooden penis that is paraded around a town. It isn’t a celebration of immaturity or pervertedness at all, as many Westerners might assume. It is actually a ceremony to ask for a rich crop harvest, and the phallus is made of fresh cypress pine each year, to symbolise newness, freshness, and fertility.
A penis? From my time in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, I have come to realise some fundamental differences between an Anglo-Western culture (prominent in Britain, North America and Australia) and the Far Eastern countries: we have Catholicism and they have Confucianism and Taoism. This might not be ground breaking news, but it is particularly relevant in understanding why a Japanese Shrine can have a fertility festival in which families and children will attend to the order of 100, 000 attendees annually, but you will not see a phallus nor 100,000 people at a Catholic church. The main fundamental difference is that in Catholicism anything related to sex is considered a sin, and we Westerners must feel guilty about it. However, the Far Eastern countries don’t have this burden of shame, and so they are happy to celebrate and pray for a good harvest, fertility, and use a phallic symbol as well.
So who attended? To my estimation, it seems that the number of people to crowd at Tagata Shrine was far less than 100,000 people (I have seen crowds of 100,000 people and more at other religious festivals in Japan). But this shortfall shouldn’t be surprising; this festival was on the first Tuesday after the 11 March, magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake.
In the winter months the wooden phallus is carved by master craftsmen using traditional techniques, and wearing purified clothing. On the day, it is strapped to a saloon and put on display. Here is a great photo opportunity, and there’s never a shortage of happy old men to encourage any lady (of any age) to pose by the big penis. In the early afternoon the phallus is then paraded very slowly through the town. Also paraded are smaller penises, and bamboo trees with white and red-polka dot ribbons. I still need to find out what the ribbons mean, but I guess it’s more about human fertility than crop fertility.