Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Japanese Phallic Festival – Yokote’s Bonden Matsuri

Japanese Phallic Festival – Bonden Matsuri
Sexual Innuendo Festival

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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.

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Bonden Poles with topped with decorations

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Attempting to balance the Bonden

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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. 

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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.

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And away we go!

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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March 24, 2010 Posted by | travel | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Japanese Igloo Festival – Kamakura Matsuri in Yokote

Japanese Igloo Festival
Kamakura Matsuri

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Kamakura Matsuri – Japanese Igloo Festival in the northern Japanese city of Yokote

In the small city of Yokote in northern Japan, the citizens eschew the modern conveniences of warm homes in the middle of February and pile into small snow huts known as Kamakura. It’s the Kamakura Matsuri and they’ve been doing this for over 400 years.

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Sori – old fashion sled for transporting toddlers and supplies

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Kamakura occupants wearing old fashion hanten coats or donbuku in the Akita dialect

These Kamamura-style igloos are two meters in diameter made of piled-up snow which is then later hollowed out. Inside is a charcoal brazier in the middle to keep the place warm. The temporary inhabitants of these Kamakura sit on cushions while cooking sweet mochi which is a type of a chewy rice cake and heating up a type of non-alcoholic sweet-tasting type of sake known as amazake.

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On the far side wall is a makeshift altar to Suijin-sama, the Shinto god of water. One of the origins of the festival is that one time Yokote suffered from a lack of drinking water and the Kamakura were erected to get Suijin-sama’s attention. Suijin-sama’s attention is also requested in the form of rain in order to provide enough water for the coming planting season.

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Visitors are invited to enter the Kamakura and freely partake of the mochi and amazake. Many of the occupants of the Kamakura are rather short. This is due to the fact that many local children play house in the snow huts. They are the hosts and hostesses which explains why it’s hard to find hot sake or beer in many of the Kamakura. The ones with bigger inhabitants will sometimes have the necessary liquid refreshment.

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Cooking mochi

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In addition to the charcoal braziers, the locals stay warm by wearing a straw cape called mino and a traditional winter coat known as a hanten. Hanten is a short winter coat with thick cotton padding which became popular in the 18th Century. In the Akita dialect it is called a donbuku or donbugu by older generations.

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Yokote Castle 

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Most of the Kamakura snow huts can hold up to about 4-6 people but at the end of the evening I ended up in one that held 17 people! These were all full grown people so there was booze a-plenty leaving me very warm that cold night but with a raging headache the next morning.

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The Kamakura Festival is a simple but beautiful festival and it’s very friendly and inviting. The festival is held every year February 15th and 16th from 6pm to 9pm.

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Hundreds of miniature kamakura dot the city of Yokote

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February 27, 2010 Posted by | Akita, festival, japan, japanese culture, Kamakura Matsuri, matsuri, snow, snow festival, tohoku, tradition, travel, video, vlog, winter, Yokote | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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