Text & video by Phoebe Amoroso, cover image courtesy of Kanamara Shrine
Our roving reporter, Pheebz, visited the annual Kanamara Festival on April 7th, which involves a lot of phalluses. The Kanamara Shrine (literally, “Metal Penis Shrine”) is where people pray for sexual health and fertility.
What’s the story behind this upstanding event? Watch the video below to peel back the mythological foreskin and get to the root of the matter.
The festival has its roots in local sex workers praying
for protection against sexually-transmitted infections, but in recent years, it
has come to represent LGBTQ and diversity with profits going towards HIV
Quite rightly, however, many have pointed out the hypocrisy inherent
in a country, which made international headlines for condemning vagina art by Megumi
Igarashi, better known as Rokudenashiko. Who was arrested on obscenity charges
for distributing 3D data of her vagina that she used to 3D print a vagina canoe
as part of her work.
Yet the obscenity of the flagrant double standards
provokes discussion, and an event that promotes inclusivity is worth
celebrating in a notoriously conservative society.
Many festival attendees are likely satisfied with pure spectatorship and sucking on phallic-shaped candy, and that’s fine too. But for maximum enjoyment, it’s worth digging a little deeper into the legend of a SAVAGE VAGINA DEMON (you read that right).
One legend has it that a beautiful woman was plagued by a jealous demon, who hid in her vagina and killed Husband Number 1 by biting off his penis. Husband Number 2 met a similar fate. Dismayed, she enlisted the help of a local blacksmith who seems to have been really chill about dealing with vagina demons. He made her a metal phallus, which she inserted. The demon, of course, bit it, but he broke his teeth and fled. Presumably she lived happily ever after, especially since she had her own personal metal phallus.
You can’t make blood from a stone but you can make ink with a stone, and beautiful artistic ink. That is, if you’re using as 硯石(suzuri-ishi), a traditional Japanese ink-stone, which in and of itself can be an art object. I went to Daigo-machi in Ibaraki Prefecture to see one be made by a traditional craftsman and try one out for myself. If you’re an amateur calligrapher (書道家）but aspire to greatness, you need one of these in your life.
Daigo-machi located in Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the few places where traditional suzuri are still made. There is a particular kind of stone that is perfect for making suzuri and the town still has a limited supply. The stones are able to grind down the solid materials used for making ink to do calligraphy, but are also resistant to being ground down as well. As far back as the Tokugawa era, the stones from Daigo and the suzuri produced there were considered natural treasures.
The stones were treasured by Japanese artists like Hoan Kosugi, noteable authors such as Saneatsu Mushanokōji (武者小路 実篤) and even Japanese Prime Minister Tsuyoshi (話せばわか) Inukai*.
Taizan Sato became fascinated with the process of making ink stones after attending a workshop conducted by the man who would later become his master, Taiseki Hoshino.
He opened his own workshop in the town in the year 2002. He has learned over time to touch a stone and know immediately whether or not it is suitable to be an ink-stone. It can’t be too hard and it is helpful if it has some claylike qualities, but not to the point of being absorbent.
In an effort to combine the town’s traditional lacquerware with the ink stones, he uses only lacquer painstakingly handscraped from the urushi trees to paint the outside edges of the stone, and ads design, to turn them into works of art on their own. Many of Japan’s living national treasures use his stones in their artwork and calligraphy.
Sato-san has one disciple (弟子) to follow in his footsteps.
As an amateur calligrapher, I can tell you that the feel of the one of his hand-made stones compared to the cheap ones sold in stationary stores is a world apart. The smoothnesss of his hand-made suzuri are extraordinary and yet the part of the stone used to grind down the ink is so subtly raised that you can barely feel it with your finger. The ink has to be ground very slowly, almost as if you were gently rubbing the ink stick against a bare nipple—-a bare nipple with razor stubble. The right amount of water and delicate friction produces a finite level of ink which pools in the “ocean” of the ink-stone (suzuri).
The detailed structure of the ink-stone makes it possible to vary the lightness and thickness of the ink; the results are brush strokes that are not uniform and subtle on the paper. For Sumi-e paintings, it is also a wonderful tool to have. Admittedly, such a majestic tool is slightly wasted on a person like myself who as my calligraphy teacher points out, “Lacks all delicacy and does not follow the proper stroke order” but maybe someday…..
I purchased one of the stones for someone much more qualified than me to make use of it (list price 30,000 yen but I only had 23,000 yen in cash so he generously cut me a deal). I gave it to a curator at the Met who is an expert on calligraphy. In another decade, I may be worthy of owning one myself. Which means another trip to Daigo…..a town with many charms.
As long as you’re in town…..
Japan is a famous for lacquerware known as urushi, and to make it the authentic way, you need organic sap from the urushi tree. Daigo provides much of the quality organic urushi needed for Japan’s traditional crafts.
Due to the cold climate and soil composition Daigo produces what some say is the finest raw urushi in Japan. It is clear, dries quickly, and has a fragrance reminiscent of Japanese cypress. If you make arrangements in advance, you can go to the serene Urushi tree forest and see how the sap is extracted. The master urushikaki (person who scrapes urushi) is Yuzo Tobita, who is 84. There used to be a hundred people doing the work. Now there are, including Tobita, five or six people continuing the tradition. It’s hard work. It takes up to ten years to grow an urushi tree and from one tree, at best you can extract 200 milliliters, basically a small bottle of Shiso Pepsi Cola.
Fortunately for the tradition, there are young apprentices like Yuma Watanabe who is 26 and now learning the art. If he sticks with it, traditional urushi may last another few generations.
After you’ve seen the urushi drawn from the sap, and maybe tried your hand at the work yourself—take a visit to Kijian, where you can see lacquerware being made and buy some souvenirs. The master , Toru Tsuji, has his own style of creating lacquerware, Yamizonuri, which results in elegant and zen-like austere utensils.
*Prime Minister Inukai was assassinated on May 15, 1932 starting the dark age of Japanese Imperialism
Coauthored by Brian Ashcraft, a senior contributing editor for the website Kotaku, and Osaka based tattoo artist Hori Benny, this book Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design was written with the goal with the intention of helping those that are thinking of getting a Japanese style tattoo (perhaps most commonly known outside of Japanese as irezumi・刺青). Both authors use extensive knowledge of Japanese style tattooing and personal interviews to guide the novice away from committing any cultural faux pas in a work that spans 158 glossy pages.
“Over the course of researching, interviewing, and writing this book, we
consulted numerous friends, colleagues, experts, and total strangers with the
goal of introducing and decoding the most prevalent motifs so that English
speakers can have a better understanding of their meaning and hopefully get
Japanese tattoos that can be worn with pride – as they should be”
The book begins with an introduction to
the history of irezumi in Japan, from punitive tattoos, to prohibition, and all
the way back to modern times. This first section also covers briefly some
reasons why Japanese tattoos have changed over time. The book is then divided
into six additional chapters based on the different styles and motifs found in
irezumi, with numerous sections in each chapter that clearly divide different
motifs in that style. A tattooist and client profile are also included at the
end of every chapter, giving life to the theme of that particular chapter. There
are also information boxes that provide additional information to support the
content within the main body of the work. All of this is supported with high
quality, full colour images of tattoos and virtually every single page of the
What I found extremely impressive about
this book was the sheer quantity and quality of the accompanying images. Not
only are specific motifs and their meanings clearly explained, but the authors
have also provided imagery and explanations of the images themselves. The
reader is able to enjoy each and every motif – usually in more than one style.
Both Ashcraft and Hori Benny did an exceptional job collecting the various
photographs of irezumi for the book.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book
though, was the addition of the Tattooist Profile and Tattoo Client Profile at
the end of every single chapter. While the majority of the book reads, to an
extent, like an irezumi dictionary of sorts, these sections brought extra life
into the vast amount of information being provided. We, as readers, are given
the opportunity to hear the voices of individuals that are not the authors.
These sections are personal and provide a real solid look into the minds of the
tattoo artists and their clients. We are able to see their views on irezumi and
what they mean to them personally. The extra insight brought in by these
sections is a crucial component in what makes Japanese Tattoos work – it makes the “foreign” content relatable.
That being said, the large amount of
information that the book contains is also a weakness. There were certain
sections that I found difficult to read. There are extra text bubbles of
information throughout the book, but in some places their existence takes away
from the overall flow of the work. The reader is obligated to both stop
midsentence to go read the “extras” or move on and hope they don’t forget to go
back and read them again. Such as,
“The fox (kitsune in Japanese) is associated with the formless Shinto deity Inari, who is sometimes depicted as male, other times as female and sometimes as gender-less. Inari is not only the god of rice, sake wine, and fertility, but also the god of metal workers and commerce. Stone fox statues often appear at the more than ten thousand officially recognized Inari shrines in Japan, and because the fox guards these shrines, the animal is often confused with the god. The pure white foxes, however, aren’t simply the god’s messengers, but also guard and protect the shrines. These foxes also carry connotations of wealth and fertility, due to Inari’s rice associations.” (pg. 57)
I found sections like this rather
disjointing and it did affect my reading experience. Definitely not a problem
for many readers, but something that I wish would have been laid out a little
better, especially considering the high quality of the content on every single
Overall, Japanese Tattoos was a fascinating read and I would recommend it enthusiastically to anyone interested in tattoos or keen to learn more about specifically about irezumi. While perhaps the academic might find the content a bit shallow in terms of the historical content, it is important to remember that that is NOT the goal that Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny set for this book. They wanted to create a resource for English speakers who wanted to get Japanese tattoos. A goal that I would say they accomplished with flourishing colours.
Taylor Drew is a new contributor to JSRC she is a Canadian living in Tokyo since 2015. (Almost) fluent in Japanese. Loves Iwate and cats.
Not Cool. #Reiwa Japan:
Run by sociopathic Hitler-loving plutocrats, w/ plummeting press freedom, endemic poverty, rising censorship, deliberate destruction of public records, continual death by overwork, a corrupt bureaucracy, & a medieval justice systemhttps://t.co/hXmND5lsW3
Today’s Asahi Newspaper, NHK and other media ran a story about an appalling ruling handed down in Nagoya Court on March 26th.
The father of a woman, who was 19 at the time of the alleged sexual assault, was tried on charges of quasi-rape (準強制性交等罪）after having non-consensual sexual intercourse with his daughter at their home in Aichi Prefecture in August and September of 2017.
Quasi-rape in Japan is defined as sexual intercourse taking place when the victim is unable to give their consent or say not. You may remember that a prominent friend of Prime Minister Abe, and also his biographer, was supposed to be arrested on charges of quasi-rape for an alleged attack on journalist Shiori Ito. In Ms. Ito’s case, she claimed to have been drugged and sexually assaulted. A high-ranking police office who was formerly the secretary to cabinet spokesman Yoshihide Suga, intervened to stop the arrest and later scuttled the investigation.
In situations where the victim is drugged or unable to refuse to have sex with an assailant, due to threats or danger to their life, charges of quasi-rape can apply.
The prosecutors argued that because of repeated violence and threats leveled against the daughter, that she was unable to say no to her father’s sexual demands. The defense argued that the sex was consensual—and even if she wasn’t able to resist, she still consented.
The court, in his verdict, recognized that the daughter had not consented. The judge even noted, “Because of the many years of sexual abuse [and other abuse], that she was mentally under the control of her father.” The court also recognized that she had been compelled have sex with her father since her second year of junior high. However, the final judgement was that she wasn’t completely under his control, “Therefore, there is a reasonable doubt as to whether she was really unable to resist.” Thus, her father was found not guilty of the charges. In other words, she could’ve resisted and she didn’t so Dad goes free.
Incest is not a criminal offense in Japan, although it was once in the past.
Masako Chiku*, the Nagoya Prosecutor, said they would consider appealing the case. Public reaction in Japan was of out rage and disappointment. In Japan, police are reluctant to pursue sexual assault charges; prosecutors routinely drop 50% of cases of sexual assault. According to one survey, 90% of Japanese women feel that Japan is easy on sexual offenders. In a country, where the Prime Minister’s pals get away with having quasi-rape investigations stopped before prosecution can even happen, you can kind of see where they are coming from.
What a different Japan it would be if the man accused of sexually assaulting Shiori Ito had been arrested, as was planned, and thrown into jail for 23 days, like Carlos Ghosn, and interrogated eight hours every day. But of course, this didn’t happen. He’s a friend of the Prime Minister. And he’s a Japanese man.
*The name of the prosecutor may be phonetically incorrect. In Japanese 築雅子次席検事
For those who are interested in the interview of Carlos Ghosn,former CEO of Nissan, with French TV LCI, here is the transcript in English.
As you may know, Mr. Ghosn has been arrested four times, after Nissan executives went to the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office and decided to make them the tool of getting rid of Carlos Ghosn, rather than settling the matter internally.
This is shared here for educational purposes.
The actual interview is available in French here: https://lnkd.in/giWYb9D
This comes courtesy of Jacques Deguest
Angel Investor, Co Founder & CEO in Japan, MBA, LLM
The Slaby Sisters: Johnna Slaby (painter) and Reylia Slaby (photographer) are pleased to present their first joint exhibition at the Intercontinental Hotel Osaka until July 31.. The exhibition features five pieces from each of their collections, and will be shown. Reylia and Johnna Slaby, twins, were born and raised in Osaka, Japan.
From a young age theywere free to explore and play within different facets of the art world. They began to develop a strong relationship with both Japanese and Western art, inadvertently creating their own fusions within the juxtaposing styles.
Johnna Slaby is an abstract artist born and based in Osaka, Japan. Originally on the road to becoming a classical pianist, her career took a sudden turn when shediscovered urban sketching and fell in love with the rough lines, textures and the different ways of representing life. She made the transition from sketching to abstract painting from 2014. She currently experiments with incorporating physical objects and coffee (literally) into her work, creating pieces that start conversations of culture and the beauty in our everyday lives.
Reylia Slaby-Fine Art Photographer
Having been born and raised in Japan, Reylia Slaby uses the influences from her unusual upbringing as the main theme in her artwork. Her photos are a rich blend of the Japanese aesthetic, and is greatly revealing of her personal experiences and thought. Her desire is to weave all the different aspects of her life into her art. She strongly believes in an empirical body of work, and is adamant when it comes to adding an individual and unique meaning to each image. Photography entered her life as a gradient. Originally a semi-professional graphite pencil artist, Reylia made a gradual switch to photography around her teen years, and then discovered fine art photography in 2012. It instantly struck a chord, and she knew that she had finally found her ideal outlet of self-expression, and for years immersed herself in the fine art world though books, online sources, and other artist’s work that inspired and moved her.
About the space:
STRESSED patisserie is proud to present fine works of art on periodic exhibition. Having invited leading artists locally and from around the world to display their outstanding works at STRESSED, the patisserie has become a gallery of fine art with paintings and prints displayed and on sale throughout. Patrons can obtain a catalogue in the patisserie for more information about the artists and their works as well as listings of the artwork for sale.
Journey beyond Roppongi (old), Shibuya (teenyboppers) to XEX Nihonbashi this Sunday starting at 6:30 for dance, music, entertainment and booze. It’s DME NIGHT
3 hours of music, dance, DJs and drinks. Also featuring special guests, The Dream Team, with a singer alleged to be the second-coming of Whitney Houston. Features live performances by Jai, Zenon, Miku, and a dance showcase (starting at 8pm) featuring our favorite cosplayer/peformer Fenix (“Storm) and others.
There’s speculation that The Dream Team might include Tokyo’s favorite siren, Zoe. But you’ll have to go to know.
The argument that “It’s worse in XXX (China,North Korea, US) so it’s okay to have XXX (sexism/racism/fascism/wage slavery/death by overwork) in Japan” is silly. It’s like the accused in a murder trail arguing, “I should be declared innocent because I only killed one person in the robbery but my partner killed three.” Some things are never okay. Whataboutism is the last resort of the intellectually dishonest weasel. (Sorry kids).
I don’t think that the work we do is shouting to the wind. Every effort matters. Sometimes sarcasm is an effective tool. We try to be polite in our response to the comments but rudeness is sometimes met with rudeness. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
Does any of our work make a difference? Yes.
Actually, in my time as a reporter, me being “Jake Adelstein”, on editing duty today–criticism of huge problems in Japan, via articles that I have written and written with others, resulted in better laws against human trafficking, comprehensive measures to deal with dioxin pollution, and the Japanese government recently admitting that there is a huge problem with exploitation of underage girls that needs to be dealt with.
I and many of the writers on this blog who live in Japan, love this country, and loving a country doesn’t mean remaining silent; it means speaking up about what is wrong, and correcting it. The effort doesn’t always work but sometimes it yields results. And people who can’t see any fault or social problems in their country or refuse to do anything about it or just as complicit in the rise “dark corporations,” greedy nationalists, death by overwork, exploitive enterprises, corrupt politicians, and the nuclear industrial complex that have done so much harm to the nation. For decades many warned of the dangers that TEPCO and its poorly managed nuclear power plants held. They were ignored. It doesn’t make them any less correct.
The battle to protect human rights, worker rights, equal rights, the environment, democracy, the public right to know, justice, gender equality and to fight poverty and end corruption are important struggles. All over the world. Japan is no exception.
I’m a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in training, which is a part of Japanese culture–surprise! I wouldn’t argue the metaphysics of Buddhism are true, but there are universal truths and there is a motto that I have as an editor and journalist and try to keep in my own personal life. Pardon the idealism but I believe this creed applies everywhere in the world.
So below is a modified version of our editorial policy, adapted from the Dhammapada (法句経）. Thank you for your consideration.
Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center, editor in chief
Conquer anger with compassion. Conquer evil with goodness. Conquer trolls with humour & sarcasm Conquer ignorance with knowledge Conquer stinginess with generosity. Conquer lies with truth