Friday, June 21, 2013

Tagata Jinja                                                       UC
Bell of Tagata Jinja
(this and following two photos from
Date founded: A Tagata Jinja is mentioned in the engishiki written in 927.
Address: 152, Tagata-cho, Komaki City, Aichi 485-0004
Tel/Information: 0568-76-2906 Pamphlet in English available for 100 yen.
How to get there: Take the Inuyama line from Meitetsu Shin Nagoya Station to Inuyama Station. Transfer to the Komaki Line and take the train to Tagata Jinja-mae Station, then a few minutes by foot.
Enshrined kami: Tamahime no mikoto, Mitoshi no kami
Prayers offered: Successful childbirth, anything related to fertility and growth.  
Best time to go: Best to go for the Hounen Matsuri in March.

Important physical features: The smallish grounds and the buildings of Tagata Jinja are of less interest than what lies within and around the buildings. Yet it is these objects of veneration that attract worshipers, visitors and gawkers from around Japan and around the world. Simply put, it is the penis, in every shape and size, in both wood and stone, that attracts so much attention. The grand daddy of them all is the 7-foot, 600-pound O-owasegata carved afresh each year from a cedar log, and used in the shrine's famous Hounen-sai festival. Enshrined afresh each year it will be unceremoniously sold off and replaced with a new one when its time is up. 

O-owasegata in procession
Important spiritual features: The primitive root (pardon the first of many puns) of all religions is the concern for the continuation of human life. The main expression of this concern revolves around fertility, and the focus of fertility worship is always both human fertility and that of mother earth which gives man life. Tagata Jinja enshrines Tamahime no mikoto, said to be the daughter of a local lord. This young woman was betrothed (or married) to a young man named Takeinadane who was killed in battle. It is not quite clear how Tamahime thus came to be a kami of fertility. In fact, there are many female kami called Tamahime or Tamayourihime, etc. This is usually a "human" who attracts and cohabits with a kami (tama means "spirit" but also kami and hime is "woman"). For more on kami please see Shinto Shrines: The Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion. This would imply that her husband was a kami and we would expect to find him enshrined as well. However, we have only to look as far as Atsuta Jingu to find Takeinadane enshrined along with a host of other deities, including Miyasuhime, who is also considered an ancestor deity of the Owari clan that founded the area. Mitoshi no kami on the other hand is said to be a grandchild of Susano-o no mikoto and considered a kami of grain. At one time, a ritual was held on the first and fifteenth of each month in which men holding banners with penis images, lead a procession carrying a huge wooden penis around the shrine grounds. On January 15, the date of the Dosojin festival and the Kinen-sai of the shrine, special horizontal penis banners were waved over the rice fields, thus blessing the harvest. The Dosojin is a group of fertility as well as a protective deities revered all over Japan. Stone tablets of Dosojin—usually depicting a couple, sometimes in a sexual embrace or with other sexual imagery—were erected (oops! there's another one) on roadsides throughout the country. Essentially a folk religion, even when elevated to the level of national/cultural symbolism as in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, Shinto has always been more concerned with the continuation of life and earthy life-processes than lofty ideas of afterlife, the soul, and the complexities of theology.  

O-owasegata enshrined
Description: Tagata Jinja is located in the town of Komaki about 30 minutes from Nagoya. It is well known as the place with the “penis festival” but the Hounen-sai is actually a “bountiful harvest” festival. Fertility festivals are not unusual in Japan though few are as “in your face” as the Hounen-sai. The only real rival is the Kanamara Matsuri (steel penis festival) of Kanamara Jinja in Kawasaki, where a huge pink penis (scrotum included) is paraded around along with an assortment of wooden phalluses and penis and vagina memorabilia. There are also other shrines that display an assortment of carved manhood  (the Taga Jinja in Shikoku has a particularly life-like specimen), and the culture of seishin (essentially gods of sex) in Japan is, so to speak, long and deep. Though, as I said previously, fertility themes and images are basic to Shinto, still Tagata Jinja seems to go out of its way to visualize the theme. Take for example the bell which one rings before saying a little prayer for a little one. At Tagata, the shape of the bell is suggestive of how that wish might be fulfilled (hint: not by praying).
   This is not to say that the other half of the equation has been totally neglected. There are a number of vaginas in evidence and especially among the various mementos (omiage) offered during festivals. But the female role is left, for the most part, to a sort of sister shrine (poor choice of words perhaps) called Oagata Jinja in the nearby town of Inuyama. Here, the female image is ascendant and the Honen-sai is held on the weekend before that of Tagata. At Oagata one can find the hime ishi (princess stone) in the shape of the vagina. This kind of yin/yang (in/yo in Japanese), male/female imagery is fully accepted for what it is, a mildly titillating prayer for fecundity and good health. To some degree it represents the dichotomy of feeling natural and comfortable with sexuality, while at the same time trying to elevate such images to the realm of the divine. Another take on this dichotomy is offered by scholar Allan Grapard who postulates that women in Japan were relegated to the level of biological production while men were producers of culture. In displays of phallic imagery within the context of the sacred, one sees the perpetual search for accommodation between the “higher” and “baser” self. 
   In Hindu religion, the lingam (male) and the yoni (female) play a similar role as fertility symbols as well as symbols of human sexuality and of the positive and protective powers of the gods. Here too, the symbolism varies from the hidden and subtle to the overt and extrovert. In India as in Japan there is no moral indignation at the use of these symbols—though there may be some embarrassment. In Japan, embarrassment comes with self-consciousness and self-consciousness became greater with exposure to foreign culture. Thus, with the full-scale entry of the West into Japan during the Meiji era, the authorities became self-conscious of this aspect of native culture and did their best to suppress overt sexual images, especially as regards the Dosojin images that populated the countryside. Today, official condemnation is gone but the personal sense of embarrassment (and joy at the embarrassment of others) is just one more important aspect of the celebration at Tagata Jinja and its famous phallic festival!

Maidens of the Hounen-sai
(photo from
Festival: Hounen-sai, 15 March. The festival recreates the visit of Takeinadane to Tamahime no mikoto. This is accomplished by carrying a 7-foot wooden penis on the shoulders of men in their yakudoshi “years of danger” (25, 41 or 61). The wooden phallus is enshrined in Tagata Jinja until the following year when a new one is carved and so delivered. Along with the giant, a large number of mini (but only in relation to the aforementioned) phalluses are carried by a procession of shrine maidens. Sake is freely distributed from a cart, before, during and after the procession, thus assuring a well-lubricated journey (I promise that is the last one!). Finally, a “shower” of mochi rice cakes in the form of white and pink balls is rained down on the waiting mass of festival revelers. Receiving a pair is considered an auspicious sign (perhaps of the night to come?).

Ooagata Jinja
Honden of Ooagata Jinja
(photo by Yuta Yanagida via Google +)
Date founded: Founded in the third century B.C. according to shrine tradition.
Address: 3 Aza-Miyayama, Inuyama City, Aichi 485-0004
Tel/Information: 0568-67-1017
How to get there: Take the Meitetsu Komaki line to Gakuden station and walk about 10 minutes.
Enshrined kami: Ooagata okami

Description: The long approach road rises gradually as you near the stone torii of Ooagata Jinja. The honden was built in the Owari zukuri style in 1661 and is designated an Important Cultural Property. The shrine is located in the foothills east of Nagoya in a lovely setting rich in Japanese apricot (ume) trees. There are several shrines on the grounds, the main one dedicated to Oagata omikami. Other sub shrines are dedicated to Tamahime no mikoto (the same kami as enshrined in Tagata Jinja) and Ebisu. This shrine is considered a pair with Tagata Jinja and they share the same festival, the Honen-sai, with Ooagata holding theirs one week before Tagata. Ooagata is considered the female counterpart and several large stones in the shape of a vagina are venerated. 


  1. You handled that with delicacy. =D Nice job.

    Glad to have found your blog, after our brief conversation on Amazon regarding Shinto Shrines (which I'm leaning over to type this.) Gearing up for this year's trip, catching up on reading, and happy to see you on the web.

    1. Hey Pattie,
      Thanks for remembering (I think you first asked about a shrine book back in 2010?) and thanks for your support. So, you are getting a chance to come to Japan? If I can be of any help with information, please let me (or others) know through the ShintoML.