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Uncle Markie out and about.

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Aug '22

Trip Memories: Guest Post From Julian Honeycutt

Gods & Penises

by Julian Honeycutt


In Japan, they say you are born Shinto, marry Christian, and die Buddhist. That is, as a new baby you will go to the Shinto shrine for purification, when the time comes, you’ll likely get married in a big building fashioned to look like a chapel and say vows in a wedding dress and tuxedo. And when your number is up, you’ll get cremated, and your family will give you a Buddhist funeral. And if you’re lucky your children, and grandchildren will pray for your soul in their butsudan and at every Obon. But in the intervening years, from that first purification ceremony until the day your remaining family all gathers in black, if you need a wish granted or a prayer answered you go to a Shinto shrine. Do you have a big exam coming up, and you need to pass? Go to Yamada-Tenmangu Shrine. Did you just make a business deal and want it to succeed? Go to Fushimi-Inari Shrine. Or do you want to start a family? Go to Tagata-jinja Shrine.

And that is exactly where we were headed at 10:00 AM on March 15th, 2018. Uncle Markie and I were on the train out toward Inyuama, the site of feudal wars between samurai and home to Japan’s oldest castle. But we weren’t going for the grandeur and history of feudal lords, we were going for the penises, and tradition, but mostly the penises. Convenience store bag in hand Katie met us on the train as we left the city. And I introduced her to my Bon vivant Uncle Markie, who isn’t really my uncle, that’s just a name that everyone calls him, including now Katie. She opened her convenience store bag and the morning started. Drinking on trains in Japan isn’t illegal and it’s hardly frowned upon, people just don’t usually do it, save silver-haired men and groups of foreigners. And with Uncle Markie in tow, we checked both boxes. So, a little after 10:00 we opened our 9% canned grapefruit cocktails. Next stop – Tagata-jinja Shrine.

The Penis Festival, actually called Honen-Matsuri, is a Shinto festival that has taken place in the same city in Japan for over 1,000 years. In its essence, it is a Shinto festival that celebrates prosperity and hopes for a fruitful bountiful harvest. In its display, it is a festival that provides free sake and parades a seven-foot 800 lb. undulating wooden penis through the streets of Komaki. If this is a wholly solemn and spiritual event, then the alcohol, commerce, frenzy, and fun are wildly out of place.

As we arrived, we passed Liquor Mountain whose line, at just before 11:00, already extended far out the front door. The parking lots on both sides of the street had been converted into vending stalls and food carts. Like most festivals in Japan, the standard clamshells of yakisoba noodles or paper cups of karaage chicken were everywhere. But unlike most festivals in Japan, so were the penises. T-shirt vendors- penises, varied banana vendors-penises, and candied penises, penises, and more penises.

It could seem odd, but it would take some great deal of time before we were penised out. Ring the penis bell of prayer? Yes! Give some money as an offering to the Gods? Couldn’t hurt! Rub the steel testicles for good luck? Don’t mind if I do! By mid-afternoon, young women in kimonos were offering free sake and parading the street caring wooden penises the size of a Sheltie (it’s seen as good luck to pet the penises; so, everyone pets the penises).

By late afternoon mochi cakes, supplied by local vendors, and mostly inedible, were being tossed from the rooftops. And the penises were winding down. With a mochi unsatisfying, only so much room in our stomachs for chocolate bananas and penis candies, it was time to go.

And though it was a Thursday, a day followed by Friday: a day in the working week, we felt it unjust to let it end so soon. The all-you-can-eat & drink yakiniku restaurant was a short few stops away. So, we did: all-you-can-eat & all-you-can-drink. As we paid and left the restaurant. Markie stumbled into a trip, that became a fall. And a drunk 62-year-old man hits the ground pretty hard. His pants ripped and his knee bloodied he asked us if we could just leave him there. Leave him there blocking the front entrance to the restaurant? No. No, we would not. Plus, you don’t follow up a penis festival with all you can eat & drink just to end it in a parking lot. Tomorrow was going to be hard, but I could see the cat paw of the Maneki Neko Karaoke (Inviting Cat Karaoke) sign from where I was standing, and we were doing some goddamn karaoke.

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