Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Genghis Kong vs. The Sacred Iron Phallus of Kawasaki

Sunday of last week dawned bright and blustery. I was not personally awake to see the dawn, of course, but it was still bright and blustery when I awoke at the ungodly hour of 9-ish so I assume that that was how it dawned. It was with a sense of nervous anticipation that I broke my fast and performed my morning ablutions (checked my Facebook and e-mails, looked at youtube for a while - the traditional morning rituals), for I had arranged some days earlier to spend the day at a penis festival in Kawasaki.

This plan had come about during an utterly failed - although nonetheless very enjoyable - attempt at a hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party in Yokohama. I had been trying to arrange a hanami party in Ueno park in Tokyo, but due to a rather feeble response to my RSVPs, I decided at the last minute to abandon that plan and take myself down to yokohama instead, where my friend James was attending a hanami party of his own. Having gathered together myself and a friend (Kaleb) we set off (3 hours late) for Yokohama's Yamashita park, to view cherry blossoms. When we arrived, however, we discovered that Yamashita is the only park in japan to be completely without cherry trees. Not a single one. So an utter failure with regards to hanami, although we still sat around by the sea in the sun and had a couple of beers under the trees, so it was very pleasant. I think it's worth mentioning that while walking from the train station to the park we passed through an area called sakuragicho, which means cherry tree district, so you would have thought that cherry trees wouldn't have been too hard to find.

So beer and time was merrily shared in Yokohama, and James mentioned that on Sunday there was a famous penis festival happening in Kawasaki, and that he and his friends were planning to attend (those of you who know James will not find this surprising at all). Already with a considerable measure of Asahi Superdry swilling around inside me, I don't think I really had any option but to eagerly promise to go with them. We were about to go out that evening for a proper drunking session around Tokyo, but at that moment I realised I had no money, so that particular event was called off, and I went home. It will happen soon though, I'm sure, and when it does I will tell you all about it. Or at least, as much of it as I remember.

So on Sunday morning I set off for Kawasaki. The station was uncommonly full of gaijin, cameras at the ready, as I understand this festival has become rather infamous among western tourists. From Kawasaki station we had to take another little train to the particular district, and on this train almost 95% of the passengers were groups of rowdy white folk, talking in loud voices about cock. Honestly, when you are en route to a penis festival it is extremely difficult to refrain from constant cock-jokes. Well, it's certainly very hard (boom boom).

We arrived, and had to hang around the station for a while (again) waiting for more people to show up, but we could see a crowd gathered at the end of the street and could hear excited voices, and then slowly a curious shape began to appear in the distance and move towards us.

Now, I don't know how well you will be able to see it with the picture this size, but you can probably make out a pink shape poking up above the heads of the crowd under the archway, roughly in the centre. This is the centrepiece of the penis festival parade.

We crossed the road and moved closer, and realised that the giant pink wooden penis was not, in fact, the only article on display here and it was in fact second in line, behind a somewhat smaller, although nonetheless impressive, black lacquer offering carried in some kind of portable shrine.

I'm just going to post this video clip again, for those of you who missed it last time. I think it demonstrates the general theme of the event quite well

As I so astutely point out there, the main giant penis appeared to be carried by a team of transvestites.

The parade passed by where we stood, and we got to see the final float of the procession. This was the least visually impressive of the three principle penises, but it is the most religiously significant (yes, this is actually a religious festival, not a gay pride parade). Again there are slight difficulties with the photo's being reduce for blogger.com, but hopefully you can make out inside the little portable shrine there is a large wooden pillar with bits of paper tied to it, there is a little wooden gateway at the front and in the little wooden gateway, maybe 6-7inches and 3 inches across, is a small (relative to the two previous ones) iron penis. This object, in fact, is the centre of the festival and the parade, although it could easily go largely unnoticed.

You might be able to see it better in this video.

Or possibly not.

Incidentally, these wooden shrines are supposedly very heavy, so they periodically have to swap the teams of people carrying them. When this happens, they mark the transition with a bit of vigorous penis shaking.

But anyway, this is the famous Sacred Iron Phallus which is enshrined at the Kanamara Shrine in Kawasaki. The legend is thus:

Once upon a time (I'm not quite sure when), a young girl lived in village near Kawasaki. She was very beautiful, and many men wanted to take her hand and marry her. Eventually a suitable man was found, the marriage was arranged and they were wed. Unfortunately, she had a demon living inside her vagina which bit off his genitals on their wedding night. She remained beautiful, however, and another gentleman of the village also decided to try his luck, with the same eye-watering consequence.

It was then that the local blacksmith hit upon a bright idea, and forged an iron penis for the girl. I needn't go into details, but basically it broke the demon's teeth and the demon died/ran away, and they all lived happily ever after.

So, the Phallus was enshrined at Kanamara, and the shrine became famous as a place to pray for fertility, marriage, marital harmony and protection for children. It also became popular with prostitutes praying for protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

So the parade went up the road, then at the top of the road it turned around and went back down the road. After toing and froing a few times over a few hours, it eventually made its way back to the Shrine from which it came. We got distracted by lunch, so missed its triumphant return to penis shrine, but on out route to the shrine we encountered some of the lovely 'ladies' who had been carrying the big pink willy.

Now, at first glance I had assumed they were a group of local lads who had just dragged up a bit for the festival, but when we saw them close-up (some closer up than others, James), it turns out they all had boobs. Not padded bras or falsies, but actual boobs. So this means that they must either be a team of really unattractive broad-shouldered women who have no idea how to apply make-up, or they are genuine she-males/transsexuals. Very peculiar. Anyway, James obviously had to pose for photo with them all.

What gender are these... people? Answer on a postcard to:
Genghis Kong's Lair

Anyway, eventually we got to the famous shrine for more penis-themed fun. Apart from penis-shaped lollies for licking, there were also a pair of giant wooden penises you could mount, presumably for fertility or luck or something, it was never never really explained. Much jollity when me and James leapt on one of these things - me posing at the base of the penis, as if 'twere my own, and he bending over at the other end - but the stranger sight, for me at least, was a Japanese man who mounted the giant cock with his tiny infant daughter. I just didn't quite get it - was he praying for fertility for his 3-year-old? Seems a little premature to me; give the poor girl a chance!

Anyway, there were stalls selling freaky penis shaped items and a man handing out some kind of freaky sake. Normal sake is clear and smooth, but this sake was sort of thick and white and... gloopy... It was only after I had had a cup of it that someone pointed out it's slightly worrying similarity to semen. I mean, it didn't taste particularly spunky. At least, it didn't taste like what I would imagine jizz to taste like, but then, maybe I'm wrong - maybe jizz does taste like sake. Who knows. Perhaps I just had a cup of priestly man-milk.

Oh well. Once a philosopher, twice a pervert, as I like to say.

Here are some of those strange penis shaped items. I mean, I could deal with a large wooden sculpture of a gnarled penis with a bright red bell-end, that wouldn't be too bad, but for some reason half of these penis seem to have vaginas in them, and that's just disturbing and off-putting. I guess the thinking goes something along the lines of 'double the genitalia in your statuette, double the magical fertility ju-ju'.

And the was about the long and the short of it. That was the famous penis festival. I presume that I am now many times more fertile than i was before this ritual took place. In fact, I'm pretty sure I impregnated at least four women just by looking at them on the train, that's how fertile I am now.

I hope that was worth the wait - sorry it took me a week and a half to get round to writing this - there just somehow never seem to be enough hours in the day for me to get everything done that I would like to. I had to skip going to the gym today in order to write this.

Since I went to the penis festival I have mostly started school. Update on that, as well as my tomatoes (very exciting) to follow shortly. I've got no class tomorrow, so I may get round to it then, but we'll see. You know how long it takes me to get anything done.

So that's it from me this time, folks.

Comments and donations (cash, cheque, bank transfer and PayPal all gleefully accepted) are welcome as always!

This would seem most appropriate. Enjoy!

Oh! Incidentally, when we finally got to the penis shrine there were quite a few cherry trees there, they were in bloom, and I was drinking a beer. I'm counting that as a successful hanami party! Epic win!

Lots of love,
Genghis Dong xx

or should that be Genghis Schlong?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Genghis Kong vs. X-Box Live

Okay, so to quickly finish off the episode of my family coming to visit in as short a time as possible: We had a really cool time in Tokyo, then Oli went back to England. Mum and Dad and I then went off on another jaunt round central and western Honshu following a similar, although slightly different, general itinerary to mine and Oli's trip - Kyoto first, then Nara, Himeji and finally Hiroshima. Even though I had just been around most of those places with Oli, we stayed in different areas and went to see different sights so I still had a really interesting time. Of course, travelling with the parents meant that I was also eating extremely well and staying in relative luxury, which was wonderful (especially in comparison to the rather small and damp apartment/bedroom/hovel I live in in Tokyo).

3 Highlights of my trip with Mum and Dad:

1. The Dattan Matsuri festival in Nara.
By pure coincidence we arrived in Nara on the last day of a 2-week long festival, which ends with a dramatic closing ceremony. We were, unfortunately, clueless to this fact and very nearly missed the whole thing, except that when we asked the Ryokan staff to serve us our dinner at 7pm they turned to one another and muttered something about "They're not going to the festival? Are you sure? They're really not going up to the temple?". Eventually we discovered that there was this event going so we rescheduled dinner for earlier and after eating we all but ran the 2 miles or so uphill through the park to try and catch the festival. Even so, we arrived just as it was ending, and only caught the last few moments of what must have been a spectacular sight.

The ceremony consists of the monks lighting on fire several enormous 8-metre long torches and then running circuits around the temple veranda with them while crowd of pilgrims/tourists (the line between these two categories is extremely blurred) is gathered below. It is a festival for the protection of children, I think, but anyway it is considered lucky if the falling cinders land on your child's head, so the onlooking worshippers actively try to catch falling fire using their children's faces.

I'm afraid I didn't get any good photos of it myself, but here's a stock photo from the internet to give you an idea of what it looked like:
The next day we went back up to the temple and collected little bits of burnt cedar from the torches for luck - I've got one attached to my phone!

2. Himeji Castle.
As I think I mentioned in my last post, Himeji is just an awesome sight. Really, truly beautiful and magnificent and breathtaking. What really makes the visit though is the volunteer guides that show you around. Without them it would be impressive, and a great photo opportunity, but the guides show you the intricacies of the design and the ingenious strategic devices built into the castle layout to deter intruders, and all kinds of extra little background information. That said, I noticed that the two different guides I had gave us entirely different tours filled with entirely different little nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of information, some of which directly contradicted each other or even directly contradicted the information plaques around the castle!

So a fascinating tour, but not neccessarily a strictly factual one.

Incidentally, anyone hoping to visit Himeji in the near future: do it this summer, because after this year it is undergoing massive restoration work to the main keep and will be closed and under scaffolding for 5 years. You have been warned.

3. Hiroshima
Hiroshima was pretty amazing, but for completely different reasons. Despite all the hilariously tasteless jokes I might make about the bombs (I was going to change my name on facebook to Hereward 'A-Bomb' Feldwick before I went, ho ho), actually visiting Hiroshima was a deeply affecting and sobering experience. We actually spoke to some A-Bomb survivors about their experiences which was rather grim and harrowing, and it is shoking to think how recent and how utterly devastating it was. Seeing the A-Bomb dome and feeling first-hand the blast marks where the heat waves from the bomb had caused gravestones to shatter really brought it home and made it seem much more real.

Top bit in Hiroshima? Seeing groups of smiling American tourists posing for photos in front of the Cenotaph - the mass grave for all the unrecorded victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Something about that scene just struck me as remarkably tasteless. I mean, in their defense I think it was their Japanese friend actually taking the picture for them, so it seems to be a collective obliviousness to possible deeper layers of meaning shared by Japanese and Americans alike. I think to most people it's just another tourist spot to tick off the list and get the photo.

Again, my photography around Hiroshima wasn't really up to much, so here is someone else's photo of the A-Bomb Dome for you to consider:

So anyway, after a few more days in Tokyo my parents went back home to England and I was left to get on with the ordinary humdrum everyday business of living in Tokyo. You know: wake up, wash, eat, go to the gym, eat, look at facebook, eat, have some beers, watch the Daily Show, eat, sleep and repeat ad nauseam. The most exciting developments in my life over the last couple of weeks have been my first tentative steps into horticulture and my purchase of a Super Nintendo.

I'm growing some tomato and chili plants from seed. It's all terribly exciting. They're living in eggboxes on my windowsill at the moment, soaking up as much sun as their little tiny leaves are able. I'm optimistic that I might start getting actual fruits from them before I have to go back to England, which will be a great thrill! Okay, this may not sound exciting to most of you, but considering I've been middle aged since the age of about 13 the idea of growing my own vegetables is honestly the very peak of excitement for me. Once I've got my own house and garden I'm going to grow all manner of vegetables and I'm going to keep half a dozen ducks for eggs and meat. I've already got it all planned out: house, wife, 4 kids, vegetable patch, ducks, lots of cats, maybe even a dog.

I also bought a Super Nintendo, and it is honestly the very finest purchase I have made for a very long time. In my opinion, it is immeasurably more fun than any of the new hi-tech machines that everyone raves about these days. I mean, so what if you've got the most advanced first-person shooter or the most realistic driving simulator in the world - I've got Super Metroid and F-Zero, and they're awesome! You can take your X-Box Live and shove it up your arse.

Right - I'd better go to bed. Once again I didn't manage to write what i had been planning to. What I had meant to write about was the enormous penis festival I went to today, but I got all caught up recapping events up to that moment. I have my placement test for Semester 2 tomorrow morning and I don't want to stay up too late writing, so that tale will have to wait for another time - hopefully not long.

Here's a little teaser for you:

So I'll leave you with that.

Wish me luck on my exam!