Wakamiya Hachiman-gu Shrine
(若宮八幡宮) is a little Shinto
shrine to the war god Hachiman
, located in
the suburbs of Kawasaki
The grounds are small, the gardens are in poor shape, and the
architecture is unimposing. Even the name is generic, as wakamiya
(literally "young prince") in this context means "son of god", meaning
that the shrine is a newer branch of a larger one.
The only reason it is known outside the immediate neighboorhood
is that the shrine has an interesting legend
attached to it,
resulting in a rather peculiar deity
Once upon a time, but in a land not very far away if you happen to
live in Tokyo, there lived a beautiful princess. (Well, actually she
was an innkeeper's daughter, but close enough.) But alas, an evil
demon with sharp teeth had taken a liking to her. The demon had
courted the girl, but she had stayed pure, and one day the demon
learned that the girl was engaged to be married the very next day.
So that night, the demon snuck into her house and crawled right up
inside her! Our heroine, terrified but helpless, told no-one and
the marriage ceremony went ahead as planned... but on the night of
the wedding, when her new husband tried to perform his
conjugal duties for the first time, the demon's sharp teeth
went snickety-snack! and the poor man was turned into a eunuch.
And the tale tells us that her next husband met the same fate, although
the details of how they conned the village idiot into marrying her
have not passed down to us.
It was clear that things could not go on like this, and the whole
village met to discuss the, shall we say, prickly issue. After extensive
deliberations, a candle lit up over the blacksmith's head:
"Why not," he said, "why not deflower the girl with an iron
phallus?" The metal tool was duly made and tested, and upon
chomping down the demon found that it had bitten off more than it
could chew; whimpering, it crawled out and slunk off to hide
in a dark corner and nurse its broken teeth. The blacksmith married
the girl and they all lived
happily ever after... except the demon and the two eunuchs, that is.
The Tourist Attraction
The end? Well of course not -- even back in the mukashi days,
the courtesans' guild knew a good idea for promoting tourism
when they saw one. The iron phallus was enshrined as a god under
the name Kanamara-sama (金まら様), "Lord Big Iron Penis", and
the shrine grounds not only feature a proudly erect kanamara
statue a meter long, but there is also a free sex museum featuring
old Japanese erotic and pornographic art, and a shrine souvenir shop
selling various phallic charms. (The museum may not be open in the
off-season, but the shopkeeper will be glad to open it up if you ask.)
However, while the shrine is free and open all year around, the best time to
visit is during the Kanamara Matsuri Festival, which -- at time of
writing, but confirm with the Tokyo Tourist Information Office --
takes place yearly on the Sunday closest to April 15. (Lonely
Planet briefly mentions this, but gets both shrine name and festival
date wrong.) The festival proceedings are much like any Japanese
festival, with traditional music, festive foods, lots of sake,
shrine-carrying and the works, except that the mikoshi (portable shrines)
all have various incarnations of Kanamara bobbing up and down, the
stalls sell all sorts of sexual paraphernalia (buy some penis candy
for the folks back home!) and the
crowd has an unusually high incidence of gaijin and various
sexual minorities. It's all great fun though, and definitely worth
a visit if you're in town at the right time.
The shrine is accessible on public transport, although getting there
requires a bit of effort. First, get to
Keikyu Kawasaki (京急川崎) station, either on the Keihin line from
Shinagawa (on the Yamanote Line) or Yokohama, or via the
immediately adjacent JR Kawasaki station. Then change to the
Kawasaki Daishi (川崎大師) line and go 3 stops out to
Kawasaki Daishi station. The total one-way fare from Shinagawa will be
around 300 yen and should take about half an hour.
Once at the station, take the only exit and turn right, then just walk
along the curving road for a block or two and you'll spot the shrine on your
right. During festival time, the shrine is especially easy to find, as
the road from the station is full of fluttering flags featuring erect
penises. Should you turn left instead and pass through the shopping
end up at the far grander and almost entirely untouristed grounds of the
Kawasaki Daishi Buddhist temple, which is well worth a visit
but, alas, doesn't have any penises on public display.
The Other Story
And for all you stick-in-the-muds, there is an alternate history
for the shrine as well: Wakamiya Hachimangu is one of Japan's
many ancient fertility shrines, the most celebrated of which is
probably Tagata Jinja. While worshippers originally visited
the shrine to pray to the gods for children, Kawasaki -- being
an old way station of the Tokaido road across Japan -- is also
a long-standing center of prostitution, and among the
prostitutes the shrine acquired
a reputation for being able to protect against unwanted
pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. These days, the
Japanese rely mostly on condoms, but shrine still sells charms
both for fertility and for warding off mishaps.
Additional Reasons To Go
Reason one would be the transcript of an actual conversation at work, dated the Monday after
my first visit:
ANNOYINGLY PERKY COWORKER: Well hi there! So whadja do last
YOURS TRULY: Oh, nothing much, just went to the Iron Penis
Festival down in Kawasaki.
SUDDENLY LESS PERKY COWORKER: ...oh. Um. Well. Eh-heh. I'll be.
Well, see you around, heh-heh...
Second place goes to a picture of a certain female acquaintance
fondly hugging Kanamara; third place goes
to explaining that picture and the others I took at the festival
to my grandparents.