By Bryan Baier
If you’ve searched Japan and Japanese festivals enough or happened to receive a viral video then you might have seen Japan’s Hodare Matsuri fertility festivals and the giant phallic idols that make up their main events, and all the, “Happy Penis Day!” jokes that Internet users attach to them. Fertility shrines and fertility festivals are a legitimate part of Japan’s culture. People come to them to pray for children, for safe delivery of their children and for matchmaking and happy marriages. One such fertility shrine is Asuka Niimasu Shrine in Nara Prefecture’s Asuka-mura.
Asuka Niimasu Shrine maybe Japan’s oldest fertility shrine. Both its date of founding and original location have been lost to history but an entry in the Nihon Giryaku notes that the shrine was ordered to be moved to its present location in 829. Scattered throughout Asuka Niimasu Shrine’s inner grounds are hundreds of phallic and yonic ubuishi fertility stones. Some of the stones are the principle idols of shrine monuments, the rest line the paths leading throughout the grounds. Many of the stones were donated by local farmers but none of them were carved into the sometimes very realistic forms on display. They are all naturally formed (gives an interesting window into the mind of nature). The stones are considered manifestations of the local Shinto deity and have the power to bless those who come to pray with the aforementioned pregnancy, safe delivery of a child and marital harmony.
On the first Sunday of February Asuka Niimasu Shrine has a fertility festival of its own. It’s known as the Onda Matsuri and it features a man in a Tengu (long nosed goblin) mask, a man in a cow mask and a man in a mask of “Okame,” the Goddess of Luck and Kindness. First the Tengu and the cow perform a rice plowing and planting ritual on the festival’s stage. When that is completed they are joined by “Okame” and a mimed intercourse ritual takes place. The ritual is performed to pray for and ensure a bountiful rice harvest in the coming year in addition to bless those praying for children, a happy marriage or to meet that special someone. Did you make it to the end of the article without checking YouTube? Happy Travels!
Was this article helpful?
Seven years of exploring and playing in the wilds of Japan! Now I'm JapanTravel's Tourism and PR Ambassador in Nara Prefecture and the Regional Partner for Nara Prefecture. It's been my experience that there's little if any awareness of Nara and its importance outside of Japan. My goal: remedy that