I’ve just got back from the 19th World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, which took place in Tokyo. No time for blogging just now, but as a stop-gap here’s a pic from the Kanamara Shrine in Kawasaki, where preparations are currently underway for the yearly festival. According to the English-language handout:

The festival traces its origins to the Edo period, when Kawasaki’s ladies of the night prayed for success in their business and protection from syphilis. At cherry blossom time they would gather baskets of bamboo shoots and other spring delicacies, carry the shrine’s phallic image through the streets, and then sit down on mats spread in the shrine courtyard to enjoy a merry banquet.

These days, people come to pray for “success in business, healthy progeny, a fertile marriage, wedded bliss, an easy delivery, or personal good health.” The shrine also runs a campaign to alleviate victims of HIV and AIDS.