Exploring Ancient Japanese Fertility Rites

Artwork of a Japanese temple and people

Japanese fertility rites may appear in festivals that celebrate reproduction, with great focus on the male's role in conception.

What Is a Fertility Rite?

Fertility rites are rituals that appeal to natural forces that are typically beyond human control. While couples take active roles in conceiving a baby, sometimes factors come into play that interfere with the natural process. The rituals may be used in the hopes to improve fertility or they may be used in the hopes of preventing pregnancies.

Example of Japanese Fertility Rites

Japanese fertility rites include festivals that adhere to ancient rituals for conception and reproduction. Western fertility rituals, such as Wiccan childbirth rituals, often look to the woman as a figure representing nature and natural forces, as evidenced in eggs as common symbols of fertility and reproduction. Japanese fertility rituals worship nature's ability to regenerate and renew using phallic symbols as representation.

Hounen Matsuri

Hounen Matsuri is a Japanese festival that celebrates renewal and fertility. The event is held on March 15 in a shrine that has a lengthy history believed to date back about 1500 years. Hounen Matsuri uses phallic representations in countless forms, ranging from candy and food to wooden souvenirs. Each year, a large wooden phallus is made from a cypress tree, and is carried between the two shrines, one representing the male, and the other representing the female. The phallus weighs about 620 pounds and five teams of 12 men carry a portable shrine that holds the structure, taking turns until it reaches its destination.

Tagata Jinjia

Tagata Jinjia is an ancient shrine in the city of Komaki, located in Aichi. The story behind the shrine involves a woman named Tamahime. She is the principal kami (diety) enshrined in the Tagata Jinja as Tamahime-no-mikoto. Behind the main shrine building sits a second structure called Shinmeisha.

Shinmeisha contains a large number of manmade phallic symbols used to represent nature's regenerative powers. Couples may visit the shrine to give thanks for a pregnancy or new baby while couples trying to conceive may pray for conception. The shrine is typically quiet, until March 15 rolls around, a time that represents spring and renewal.

Ogata Jinja

Japanese fertility rites, like many western rituals, are strongly associated with planting and harvesting. The Ogata Jinja, also known as the Izumo-tashia, is a shrine that contains representations of female genitalia. Hime-no-Miya Grand Festival is celebrated on the first Sunday in March. This festival is a prayer for prosperity and good harvest, but women who want to marry or have children visit the shrine all year long in hopes that their prayers will be answered.

Fertility Rite of Dosojin

The fertility rite of Dosojin is an annual ritual held by the men's youth association in Shimofukuzawa, Japan. The deity festival involves role playing in which young men in the village act as seven lucky gods. The fertility ritual is held to benefit newlyweds and, since age 42 is unlucky for males, the ritual is also used to purify men who are this age.

Exploring Fertility Rituals

Fertility rites and rituals like Dosojin deity festival are common threads across the globe and though many different forms exist, they each seek to evoke the power of regeneration. The practices may not be effective treatments for infertility, but they are important aspects of many different cultures, and their histories.

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Exploring Ancient Japanese Fertility Rites