A unique gift…

One of the great things about being a teacher at a language school in Japan is that we get a lot of presents! Gift-giving is such a huge part of the culture, that it would be considered rude if gifts weren’t given, in most circumstances.  So when the students go on trips, or sometimes just when they feel like it, they bring us gifts.  Usually food gifts, which we can all share, but sometimes other small gifts, like good luck charms from shrines.

We were back to school this week, and one of our always generous students was kind enough to give each member of staff a good luck charm from the shrine he had visited at New Year.  The shrine he visited is called Tagata Jinja, and it’s in Komaki, Aichi, near to Nagoya.  I haven’t visited yet, but I’m curious about it now…

Tagata Jinja is famous for its Honen Matsuri, a kind of Harvest Festival, which happens on March 15th every year.  And yes, I am planning to try and check it out this year!  Go on… just click on the link and you’ll understand why this festival is a bit of a novelty…

…yes.  It’s all about penises.  I have to quote this wonderful website about the famous ‘penis shrine’…

With everything from penis shaped candy to suck on, phallus keychains, azuki filled dumplings in the shape of the male member, and small wooden objects to take home as souvenirs, it is easy to think that it is the phallus that is being worshipped. This is not the case. Each of the hundreds of objects in the shrine buildings are essentially offerings to the enshrined deity, and are venerated as such. In the past, the shrine often lended these phalluses to those in need, for example a couple wishing to conceive, an individual searching for a suitable spouse, or to cure childhood illnesses. The objects were returned with interest, for after the desired result was obtained the borrowed phallus was returned to the shrine, along with a new object donated in gratitude. However what the veneration is about though is the worship of a feminine deity. The kami is female and embodies fertility and fecundity. Not far from Tagata shrine there is another place of worship called Ogata (Oogata) Jinja, where the objects are representative of female genitalia. In an agricultural community, the sacred feminine was worshipped, and the rituals that have survived to this day at the Tagata shrine were celebrations of this, conducted in order to ensure bountiful agricultural harvests, regeneration and renewal as well as human birth. In this way the Hounen matsuri is similar to other fertility rituals around the world. Hounen means bountiful year. The festival is held March 15th because spring is the time of regeneration where seeds sprout and dormant trees and plants that seem to be dead come back to life.


Anyway… I was saying that I received a good luck charm from my student.  In fact, we all did, which was very kind of him.  Here’s mine:

As my manager was looking at the gifts and dishing them out to us, she opened this one and the little golden John Thomas popped out and leapt right across the school lobby.  “That one’s yours, Alison”, she said… 😉

One thought on “A unique gift…

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