Sexual Innuendo Festival
Festivals participants struggle uphill to deliver a gift, a decorative Bonden pole, to the god of a local shrine in return for a bountiful harvest
At first glance, Yokote's Bondon Matsuri in Northern Japan may seem rather innocuous. Tall decorative pools are paraded through the streets where later they are taken up a mountain and offered to a Shrine for the sake of a good harvest.
Bonden Poles with topped with decorations
Anpan Man: hero to children and bread everywhere
However, if one probes a little deeper they will discover that the 4-meter tall Bonden poles are actually suppose to represent the penis and only men can participate in carrying it up the mountain. When the Bondon poles are brought to the shrine on the mountain, the whole phallic symbolism becomes very clear.
A Bonden Pole is thrust through the Shrine's Gates
Men lower their Bonden poles to a horizontal position before vigorously "entering" through the Torii gate and later the main shrine building. Other particpants form a defensive league to protect the shrine's virtue and when the Bonden carriers try to ram their poles through the opening, the defenders push back. Eventually the shrine's defenses are beaten and it gradually submits. Sometimes the poles bend and break which made me wince just watching.
The Bonden Matsuri takes place over two days in mid-February and its purpose is two-fold: to pray for successful harvests in the coming planting season and for the men to show off their vigor and prowess. The god of the shrine is a god of strength and the men compete with each other to show off their manliness.
The first day of the festival is rather mild. All the Bonden poles both big and small are gathered near the town center. A judging contest is held to determine who has the best decoration atop their Bonden. Many of this year's decorations had depictions of a tiger because the animal for the Chinese Year of 2010 is the tiger.
Several decorations were of samurai. The most popular samurai this year was Kato Kiyomasa. While Kato Kiyomasa had nothing to do with the town of Yokote or Akita prefecture for that matter he did have something to do with tigers much to their dismay. Kato was a samurai general in the late 16th Century who took part in the great invasion of Korea from 1592-1598. While there, Kato hunted and killed a tiger in the Korean mountains.
Kato Kiyomasa - Samurai and Tiger-Killer
Another samurai warlord presented at this year's Bonden Matsuri was Takeda Shingen. He too lived in the 16th Century during the turbulent time of the Sengoku Period or Warring States Period when Japan was divided between so many warring factions. Takeda Shingen was practically a legendary figure even in his day and his nickname was the "Tiger of Kai" which was the province he ruled.
Takeda Shingen: The Tiger of Kai (modern day Yamanashi Prefecture)
After all the groups have presented their phalluses err... decorative Bonden to the judges, some of the team members start showing off their prowess by attempting to balance the poles on their hands, shoulders, and even heads. This is an imitation of the Kanto Festival which takes place in August in Akita City where participants balance tall bamboo poles decorated with paper lanterns on their hands, shoulders, heads, and hips. The problem is the Bonden poles are too top heavy to get a good balance. More often than not the person's attempt ended with the Bonden pole crashing to the ground sometimes damaging the decorations.
Attempting to balance the Bonden
On the next day, all groups assemble near the town center around 10 then parade through the town. They go about 2-3 kilometers to the outskirts of the town then trek up a mountainside. At the bottom of the mountainside is a wide wooden gate building. It's here where the Bonden Matsuri gets exciting and lewd that is if you know the symbolism behind the poles.
With decorations removed, the Bonden Poles have a clothed wrapped squared-shaped frame at the top which bares a striking resemblance to the head of something normally kept out of decent sight. The Bonden pole is lowered to a horizontal position and the men with it charged lustily at the gate's entrance. Other men are standing at the gate's entrance to resist their advances. A pushing match ensued with both sides shoving and pushing until finally the Bonden team has its way and goes through the gate tunnel to the other side. Then some of their team turns around to resist the next group of Bonden carriers.
And away we go!
After all the heaving and thrusting, the Bonden make their way up the mountainside. It's a good half-hour walk made difficult with all the piled up snow. The Bonden poles are carried erect the whole way with team members switching up the carrying duties.
When they reach the shrine near the top there is short but very steep slope to get to the main shrine building. Each Bonden team gathers together at the bottom of the slope gathering their strength and bravado before rushing up the hill. Sometimes they stumble and fall but eventually they make it up to the top.
At the top after a bit of a breather, the Bonden carriers with unflagging spirits once more rise viagra-oulsy to the occasion and repeat their performance pushing, shoving, and thrusting into the shrine itself. I hope they at least bought the shrine dinner at first.
The final push
Once done, one by one the Bonden teams spent and exhausted make their weary way down the mountain with their Bonden poles carried limply in the horizontal position. I have seen fertility festivals with actual penis floats that were less overtly sexual than this.