In the past few weeks, the upcoming Penis Festival in Kawasaki was all I heard about. It sounded like a “had to be there event“, so that’s where I set out to go this rainy Sunday morning.
As soon as I get out of the train station in Kawasaki, it seems like I’m back in Europe. I’m surrounded by Western faces and the prevalent language I hear is English. Immediately, having come here feels wrong somehow, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
The popularity of the festival can be measured by the queue of people waiting to get in – it goes all around the block. Luckily Japan knows how to handle big crowds and there is a huge number of guys in uniforms, directing the festival visitors where to go in oder to not mess up the system of the queue. I’m very happy about this level of organization in Japan because it creates fairness and no one needs to get upset. It’s your turn when it’s your turn.
Inside the small festival area, where the Western tourists are let lose on their own, the organizational system breaks down and everything descends into chaos and anarchy. Despite there being several food stalls, I can’t make out any queues to follow anymore. Everyone is shoving and pushing to get through.
I just stand there, shocked, and for a second I honestly don’t know what to do. All I want is to leave immediately. I’m starting to feel anxieties rise up that I haven’t felt in a long time. Looking at the unhappy faces of the other Westerners around, I guess they don’t seem exactly relaxed either. It’s so paradoxical to me that they don’t realize that if everyone behaved decently, there wouldn’t be chaos and this festival would be a much better experience for everyone.
A Western girl walks by with a penis shaped lollipop. Since I promised a friend of mine to buy one of these, I enquire where she got it from. She points to the other side of the festival area and says: “There is a long line, but you just have to elbow your way in from the side!“ This doesn’t sound like something I want to do, so I try lining up normally. Soon I realize that by doing that, I don’t stand a chance to ever reaching the candy stall I’m trying to get to. People are pushing in from the side and jumping the queue. I find myself fighting my way through as well, despising myself for doing so. Being among Westerners who haven’t adapted to Japan and its values brings out the worst in me, too.
I can also feel, painfully, how the Japanese people at the festival look at me. Like I’m one of the annoying foreign tourists who had nothing better to do than think to themselves: “Let’s go find the crazy shit so we can go back home and tell everyone about how crazy Japan is.“ If anything, it seems likely to me that the Western media has turned this festival into something it didn’t use to be. I’ve been to several festivals like this, and the atmosphere has always been serene and relaxing. The complete opposite of today.
I also feel sorry for the Japanese people who can’t really enjoy this festival anymore, because foreigners without manners but all the more bigger elbows completely took over. I wonder: Why am I here? I don’t belong here. I’m not one of them. I’ve grown up and lived in the “elbow culture“ for 26 years and it had never agreed with me, but now, after 8 months of living in Japan, I can’t deal with it at all anymore. I just want to get the hell out of here and calm down the stress migraine that has been building up in my head in the past hour.
Back in my quiet area in Yokohama, people in the shop talk to me in Japanese like I’m – in some way – one of them. Even though I don’t understand all of it, it’s such a relief to be seen as a resident again.
Today’s lesson is clear:
I’m not going to go searching for “crazy shit“ anytime soon, but follow my intuition about the things I really enjoy doing in Japan. Like taking a pit-stop under a cherry tree on my way home from the supermarket. Or spending my Sunday in the local bathhouse. While doing so, I will make sure to remember to be grateful for living in a country that reduces chaos on the outside and as a direct consequence, my anxieties on the inside.