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.
How to get there:
From Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu train company Inuyama line to Inuyama Station for about 25 minutes. Change to a local train on the Komaki Line to Tagata-Jinja Mae Station (lit. Tagata Shrine in-front of Station), for about 11 minutes. The total oneway trip is ¥730, but check Hyperdia.Com for schedules and current ticket prices. From Tagata-Jinja Mae Station just follow the crowd to the event. Some people go to the destination temple, or to the temple where it all begins, or do both.