It would be enough if it were simply the world’s greatest annual penis festival, but Kanamara Matsuri is so much more.
According to an origin tale dating back to Japan’s Edo period, a serious case of vagina dentata affected a local woman (and, by proxy, her honorable suitor). Thankfully the local blacksmith forged a cure in the form of an iron dildo. The shrine remains dedicated to this blacksmith to this day. More realistic versions of this story touch on an outbreak of syphilis that swept the area in the 17th century, and the shrine’s longtime meeting point for prostitutes congregating to pray for protection against illness.
Though the day’s festivities begin with a shinto ceremony, the main attraction is the afternoon procession in which ancient, portable shinto shrines (“mikoshi”) transporting comically large phalluses are marched through streets lined with revelers. After the parade, everyone gathers to enjoy street food, contests, and general sexual-themed merriment. Frequented in equal part by locals and tourists, common sights include young men cross-dressing in kimonos, grandmothers sporting glasses with penis noses as they devour phallic street foods, and young ladies posing for photos while riding wooden penis seesaws.
Silliness aside, the festival stays true to its origin story by honoring sexual awareness and community prosperity by donating all proceeds to organizations dedicated to HIV research.