Organisers of the Kanamara Mitsuri, or Festival of the Steel Phallus, in Kawasaki, Japan, have dissociated themselves from an unofficial mascot called “Gachachin”, which they say is being mistaken for an official representation of the event. The festival is based on a legend about a demon who took up residence in a woman’s vagina to stop her having children. The woman hired a blacksmith to make a steel phallus, which cracked the demon’s teeth, ending the incursion. A replica of the phallus will be paraded at this year’s festival on 2 April.
Gachachin, a figure based on a popular children’s cartoon character, has been worn by a festival visitor for at least the past eight years. The character looks childlike but the custom features highly realistic male genitalia. The Kanayma Shrine, which organises the festival, released a statement saying: “As of March 2023, there are no official mascot characters for our Kanamara Festival. We do not officially recognise the costumed mascot called Gachachin, which is being treated as an official mascot on the internet in any way whatsoever.”
Kanamara Mitsuri involves Shinto worship of the male genitalia, with Kawasaki city used to be a district of Edo (present-day Tokyo) where many sex workers plied their trade. The festival was originally popular among these workers but has now become a tourist attraction, attracting traders of phallus-shaped candy, vegetables and precious ornaments. It is also the Japanese event that attracts most foreign visitors to Japan on a yearly basis, according to Japan Today. The shrine that preserves the legend’s steel phallus statue has become a popular location for couples seeking romantic blessings.
This year’s festival will be the 45th since it began in 1969. Along with the procession of the replica steel phallus and other phallic-shaped objects, the festival also holds performances and other entertainment. Despite the festival’s commercial aspect and the embarrassment some Japanese people feel at the spectacle, the event reflects a kitschy sense of fun that’s not tolerated elsewhere in Japanese society.