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While men are understandably drawn to it, it’s women who are said to benefit the most from worshipping here.

Each year the Kanayama Shrine in the city of Kawasaki, in Kanagawa Prefecture, holds the Kanayama Festival, also known as the “Penis Festival.” During the festivities, portable shrines with gigantic phallic symbols are paraded around the city in a lively celebration, but on the other side of Japan, there’s a religious institution that gives a much quieter salute to a part of human anatomy that’s usually kept covered in public.

Coincidentally, Kawasaki Kannon temple is located in a neighborhood that’s also called Kawasaki, although this Kawasaki is part of Shunan City in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The temple’s name is a combination of its location and Kannon, the goddess of mercy in Japanese Buddhism, and because of its connection to the deity offering prayers at Kawasaki Kannon is said to help alleviate a number of medical ailments such as failing eyesight and lack of mobility in the arms and legs.

However, Kawasaki Kannon is also known by another name: Oppai Kannon, or “Boob Kannon.”

▼ The approach and entrance to Kawasaki Kannon

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At first glance, the temple looks like any other that you might stumble across in rural Japan. It’s not until you head up to the main hall that its mammary connection becomes apparent.

▼ It’s a little odd that a temple people visit to pray for help with mobility issues has such a steep flight of stairs, but there’s also a sloped detour you can walk up instead.

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Once you reach the top of the steps, next to the temple’s main hall you’ll see a space for hanging ema, wooden plaques on which worshippers write their prayers and wishes. Usually, you’ll find ema at Shinto shrines, so it’s sort of unusual to come across them at a Buddhist temple like Kawasaki Kannon, but more surprising than the fact that Kawasaki Kannon has ema is what those ema look like.

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In sharp (or perhaps pillowy soft) contrast to the trapezoid shape of orthodox ema, the majority of Kawasaki Kannon’s are boxes containing a model of a naked pair of breasts, nipples and all. But while the sight no doubt elicits chuckles from visitors, there’s actually a centuries-old reason for this open display of boobs iconography.

Kawasaki Kannon is said to have been founded in 1185, an era in which pregnancy and childbirth were far more dangerous to both mother and child than they are today. Because of the goddess Kannon’s connection with mercy and health, expectant or prospective mothers would come to the temple to pray to be blessed with a child, for an easy birth, and, to keep their baby healthy and nourished, an ample supply of milk from their bosoms.

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Because of that last point, as the years went by Kawasaki Kannon become increasingly associated with breasts, which brings us to the present day and its nickname of Oppai Kannon. And even if you’re not a parent-to-be, it’s still worth a visit if you’re making the rounds of milky attractions in Yamaguchi.

Temple information
Kawasaki Kannon / 川崎観音
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Shunan-shi, Kawasaki 2-1

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