Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) is a Shinto festival held in the town of Kawasaki. Every year, on the first Sunday of April, the town recreates a giant replica of a steel phallus and parades it down the street while vendors sell phallic shaped treats and decorations among the cheering crowds. This religious festival has gathered attention from all over the world and draws masses of intrigued tourists every year.
So what is this festival all about? It is an homage to a Shinto folk story about the trials of a young woman and a possessive demon who had fallen in love with her. The demon made numerous attempts to woo the young woman, but she spurned his advances again and again. Enraged, the demon decided that if he was not able to have the woman for himself that he would at least ensure that she was unable to have anyone else. Unbeknownst to her, he hid deep in her vagina, physically possessing her body as his own.
Eventually the young woman fell in love and decided to marry. On her wedding night she eagerly anticipated consummating her marriage in conjugal bliss. As her husband entered her he suddenly gasped, and fell back on the floor, blood spurting from his nether regions. The hidden demon had bit her husband’s penis clean from his body.
The second time the woman decided to marry, her new husband met the fate of the first and the women realized what was wrong, that her sacred flower was possessed by a vengeful demon ex-suitor. Distraught with both the loss of her husbands and the presence of the invasive spirit, the woman was desperate for a cure. She approached a young blacksmith and told him her woes, begging him to help her get rid of the demon that haunts her. The young blacksmith listened carefully to her story and came up with an ingenuous idea; he fashioned a phallus made of his strongest steel, intending to use it to defeat the demon.
Feigning intimacy, the blacksmith carefully inserted the rod into the woman, and the demon bit down upon it, expecting to find flesh that would shred beneath his teeth. Instead, the steel caused the demon’s fangs to splinter and break. The demon fled from the young woman’s vagina in pain, never to return and trouble her again.
Over time this story became associated with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), first metaphorically, then religiously. It started with sex workers visiting a local Shinto shrine; however, with the rise of global tourism, and the influx of foreign visitors, it has become emblematic for hope in the face of the HIV crisis; money is collected during the festival to help prevent and treat the disease in Japan and abroad.
For more on this and other myths regarding Vagina Dentata, see Revisioning an Archetype: A Study into the Mythology of Vagina Dentata and the Sexually Dangerous Woman by Dr. Emma Woods.