There are festivals and celebrations of every sort in Japan. It seems as though there is a festival for everything, a shrine for everything, and a meaning behind it. I had no idea that each shrine had a specific meaning, and people come from all over to pray or pay tribute at shrines and temples of their choice for many different reasons.
One particular shrine I learned about is Tagatajinja located North of Nagoya in Komaki. I found out that this was a shrine with an interesting past and a colorful present. What is usually a quiet area, quickly transforms into a busy hub of people, from all over Japan and the world. They flock in herds to this area to celebrate and take part in the hounen matsuri. Hounen means “year of abundant harvest”.
This annual festival is held on March 15 and is known as the festival of fertility, to pray for a bountiful harvest for generally anything! It gives hope for farmers wanting a good harvest, people who have children, want children, or hoping for a ‘fruitful harvest’ in their lives, for safe birth, for those getting married and those hoping for a satisfying married life. This is also known as the penis festival. Hence the phallic objects everywhere! This celebration is mistakenly thought to be worshipping the phallus, but this Shinto tradition is really about worshipping the earth, and celebrating the power of nature and its ability to renew and rejuvenate.
Much of the history of Tagatajinja is shrouded in mystery, but it is said to be 1500 years old. But the festival is about 650 years old. Since the city of Komaki was a farming area, many of the farmers would depend heavily on an abundant harvests for survival. During the 3rd-5th century AD Tamahime, the daughter of a feudal lord was engaged to Takeinadane. Unfortunately, he was killed in a battle, Tamahime and his children made a life and resided in what is now Tagatajinja. Tamahime is the main deity of the shrine in the honden-which is the main building.
The festival starts at around 10am, spectators can enjoy the sights, the food and buying souvenirs of all shapes, colors and sizes. I’m sure you will find something you like. The main procession, begins around 2pm, where a 400kg penis mikoshi (portable shrine) carved from hinoki is carried by 60 men from one shrine to the next. The burly group of men and women dance and chant happily while on their journey, twirling, lifting, rotating, and occasionally spinning the gigantic phallus.
These men and women are said to be in their yakudoshi year or at an unlucky age which is 36 for women and 42 for men. 33 for women is also unlucky which means hard or disastrous. The procession is purified with salt which is a purifying element in Japanese culture. The path is lined with spectators watching and taking pictures. At the end of the procession, sake is served! The good quality sake is unlimited so no need to rush, enjoy the bounty of the day. The climax of the festival is when the mikoshi has made its way to all the shrines and heads to Tagatajinga to be laid to rest. People line the gates of the shrine, waiting to witness the final resting place of the giant phallus. Once inside the shrine, the mochi nage event begins around 4pm. This is the rice cake tossing, but it’s more like hurling. Participants are warned that they may sustain injury from flinging rice cakes but you participate at your own risk! The celebration of fertility and abundance is quite common in Japan. The hounen matsuri is one of many to enjoy.