A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

HARDCORE Discovery ! Giant Stone Phallus is Possible Evidence of Hyakudayu Worship in Yatabe, Tsukuba!

By Avi Landau

A large stone phallus ( sandwiched by two smaller ones) in Yatabe, Tsukuba (2010)

I have spent years slowly getting to know Tsukuba`s old shrines, temples and sacred stones. I thought that I had seen, or at least read or heard about, everything of interest. Little did I know that while spending a few spare minutes wandering  the side-streets of the city`s Yatabe District, I would stumble upon one of the most surprising discoveries I have ever made, of something that I still have not found mentioned in any of the literature on local history, religion, or folklore.

Passing by what looked like a small meeting hall (of modern design, yet quite old), I spied what looked like a HOKORA, a typical wooden structure with a roof of heavy tiles, used to shelter devotional objects such as sacred stones or statues. From the road I had only a side view of it in the yard behind the meeting hall. I went to have a look. I quickly realized that this was not merely one HOKORA , but three in a row, which meant several sacred objects could be found there. Peering into the first section I approached, I found two Daishi-Sama figures, images of the great priest Kukai ( known as Kobo Daishi), the founder of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism, which has long been popular within what is now Tsukuba City. These are a typical feature of this area, and I cooly took note of them.

In the middle section I found a devotional stone dedicated to the God of the Atago Shrine, which is usually associated with the prevention of fires (also quite common in these parts), behind a fragment of  what seemed to be a very old and interesting Buddhist monument, which I guessed had been brought to that spot from somewhere else for shelter.

It was when I looked into the last compartment ( the one on the far left) that I encountered something I never would have expected- an impressively tall, finely carved stone phallus, sandwiched between two, much small objects of similar design.

Excited by what I had stumbled upon, I spent a few minutes  looking for details and taking photos, Then I scoured the immediate vicinity for anyone that might be able to tell me about what these stones were. The only people I encountered, however, told me that they didnt know anything about them- besides the fact that they were shaped like a man`s private parts ( duh!).

Later at the library, I tried to find anything I could about these stone phalluses in books and journals on Yatabe`s history and culture. I found nothing. Not even in a very detailed book which supposedly documented ALL of Yatabe`s sacred stones. This seemed a bit odd to me and made me even more curious about that spot.

Dont misunderstand. Phallic stones- DANKON (男根, literally MAN-ROOT) in Japanese, are far from rare in Japan. It is not difficult to understand how that shape would come to represent the LIFE FORCE, FERTILITY and IMPREGNATION, and in fact they can often be found at shrines associated with prayers for good harvests, household safety, and  pregnancy. They can also frequently be found at mountain shrines connected with  YAMABUSHI ( mountain ascetics) such as Mt Kaba-San near Tsukuba ( since the mountains sacred to the YAMABUSHI were believed to be inhabited by a FEMALE deity, women were not allowed onto the mountains and wooden phalluses were set up for the Goddess).

What aroused my special interest in the phallic stones that I found in Yatabe, was that they were in the middle of a town. During the Edo Period (1600-1868) that spot was in fact, right near the JINYA  (official rest house), in an area which in those days would not have been considered rural. I had a suspicion that these DANKON had some other significance  than being used to pray for abundant crops or . the conception of a child.

The inscription reads: 万人講中 - Man-nin koh-chuh

A few days later, still having found no written information regarding the stones, or anyone who could tell me anything about them, by incredible coincidence, I stumbled upon two paragraphs in a book which I think probably can clear up the question of what these Yatabe Phallic stones are.

I was reading a work called Songs to Make the Dust Dance: the Ryojin Hisho of 12th century Japan, by Yung-Hee Kim, which is a fascinating and highly readable examination of a collection of Heian Period poems which shed some new light  on the lifestyles and beliefs of the people, both high class and low, of that period. It is a well worth (repeated) reading for anyone interested in traditional Japanese culture, but here I would like to quote one paragraph, which I believe might explain the significance of the phalluses that I found. This is from the section of the text which discusses ASOBI- apparently a caste of women once involved in certain court rituals. When this function was eventually lost to them they had to resort to prostitution, a trade which they apparently plied on boats ( which could be the origin of the term MIZU SHOBAI- the water trade, which can be used to refer to bars,hostess clubs and other such establishments traditionally catering to men).

page 9

“In addition, asobi sought a further safeguard for their business prosperity in the worship of a deity called Hyakudayu. Hyakudayu was apparently a phallic cult, its object of veneration being representations of the male sexual organ made of wood, paper or stone. The cultic practice stems from the fetishistic belief that praying to and honoring Hyakudayu, the courtesans could ensure continued success in attracting male customers. The powerful appeal of the hyakudayu worship to asobi is evidenced in Yujoki , which notes that asobi kept hundreds and even thousand of these objects”. (Yung-Hee Kim)

The author then goes on to quote two IMAYO poems which mention Hyakudayu. I will include one here, the original, as well as Kim`s translation:

Asobi no konomu mono

zogei tsuzumi kohashibune

ogasakazashi tonotorime

otoko no ai inoru Hyakudayu

A courtesans favorite things

Her many arts, the drum, the little boats,

the woman who hold the large parasol

and the woman who rows her skiff

and Hyakudayu, the one she prays to for a man`s love

RH 380

After finding these passages  however, I was unable to dig up any other textual evidence for a connection between phallic shaped devotional objects and Hyakudayu ( which seems to have been most common in western Japan, near Osaka etc.). Not only for the specific case of the Yatabe phallus, but for DANKON in general.

Still , I had a gut feeling that I was onto something. But maybe it was the thrilling coincidence of finding the passage in Kim`s book just at that particular time.

Anyway, after a couple of weeks had passed and I had found ( besides the poems in the Ryojin Hisho) written evidence only of  a relation between phalluses and FERTILITY in Japan, I decided to go back to Yatabe and try to find someone who lived nearby who could tell me some more.

When I got there, I found an old man coming out of a house nearby. He was a little surprised to see me, but quickly relaxed. When I asked him about the phalluses he told me he didnt know anything. Disappointed, I went to the stones to have another look.

Suddenly, the man came up to me. He told me that when he was young, women used to come and pray at this place.

Excited, I asked him what they prayed for- pregnancy?

“No”, he said.” They were women of the WATER TRADE”

When I asked if these women would make any particular offerings, he answered that they did not. He said that they would just come to pray.

I could hardly contain a grin of satisfaction! It seemed as though my hunch was correct! These were not the usual DANKON phallic images found in Japan. The types used to  pray for  fertility. These had long been used by geishas, courtesans,prostitutes and later hostesses) who were either praying for success in their trade, or possibly safety from disease or other dangers of the trade.

I will keep you informed of what I find out as I dig deeper. With perseverence I just might get to the ROOT of the matter!

Good night

And if you are interested in the book Songs To Make the Dust Dance- which you well should be, you can order it from amazon, or read it in its entirety ONLINE!

Just google it.


  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Your article arouse my curiosity very much.
    I tried to investigate “Hyakudayu”,but at the moment could not find any Japanese articles that explain “Hyakudayu was apparently a phallic cult” as explained by Yung-Hee Kim.
    Some articles explain it is a god, carved simple wood carving,or paper-folded doll. And during festival their faces paonted white.
    Also “Hyakudayu” was a god worshiped not only by “prostitutes” but also by puppeteers too. In ancient Japan they both were usualy wanderers.
    The most famous Jinjya(shrine) of Hakudayu is Nishinomiya-Jinja in Kobe City,which also worships Ebisu-sama,son of first god Izanami and his wife Izanagi,but who was born with bad legs and was thrown away into the sea,finaly arrived sea shore of there, became a god of fishery. Now a days is worshiped as god for trade too. Some connection Ebisu-sama(bud legs), puppets,wandering in water, trade flexible as wandering water,and prostitutes.
    “Hyakudayu” in old Japanese “百太夫” (hundred rich men=plenty of prosperous men”.
    My interpretation would be those ladis prayed Many rich men’s favor, because at the time of Ryoujin-hisyo there was no meaning in word “Ai”(todays meaning love).
    Any way I would like to know what was a real shape of Hyakudayu,
    and relation to the intereseting caving of Yatabe which Avi-san introduced.

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Hyakudayu 2010.12.20 Result of my preliminary research
    ① Primary sources regarding Hykudayu 
    The primary source material on Yujyo(Asobi or Yujyo) were “Yujyo-ki”(「遊女記」) and “Kugutsu-ki (「傀儡子記」) were written by Ohe Masafusa(大江まさ房:around 1275 AD) who was a politician, and an academic of Chinese literatures. His articles were quoted many way about Yujyo and Kugutsu including Hyakudayu before “Ryoujinhisyou” was found in Meiji era(Meiji 44nen :1910) by Famous academic of ancient Japanese songs Dr Sasaki Nobutsuna. So from then, that particular song in Ryoujin-hisyo mentioned about Hyakudayu was spotlighted.

    ②Professor Yung-Hee Kim(1994)
    She wrote about Hyakudayu as “Hyakudayu-worship was apparently a phallic cult———”, she wrote in quotation of this part from the book “Miko no rekishi” by Dr. Takigawa (Takigawa Seijirou:滝川政次郎:1897-1992,an academic of History of Law system who wrote many books in this area, also wrote “Yujyo no rekishi:History of Yujyo”1965” and ”Yuukoujyofu, Yujyo ,Kugutsume”(遊行女婦(うかれめ)・遊女・傀儡女:1965)”.
    (I don’t know why Yung-Hee Kim’s quotation was ”Miko no rekishi” which was written by Yamagami Izumo:山上伊豆母:1996, may be simple mistake, because Prof. Kim wrote in 1994 ).
    Originally Dr Takigawa wrote:
    —-Statue of Dousoshin was a statue who exposed penis,——–men and women of Kugutsu-people worshiped God named Haykudayu,——— according to Oheno Masafusa (around 1150AD,who wrote “遊女記”and “傀儡記” ) Hyakudayu was one of Japanese God, Dousoshin(道祖神)—–.
    Also, Dr Takigawa wrote—- in later years—- phallus become itself as a Dousoshin. In prostitute houses like that of Yoshiwara there were Kinseisama(金勢様), Donkyousama(道鏡様).——Those were made of paper, wood or stone shaped phallus and worshiped as good luck.—–(This part Prof. Kim quoted.)
    Dr. Takigawa discussed Yujyo-Kugutsu people originally came from ancient Korea having special talents, hunting, puppeteer, dancing, singing, and they are traveling people–.
    Those arts or techniques were delivered to Korea from China. (some researchers said originally from middle east to far east: like gipsy to west)
    Dr Takigawa didn’t mention precisely that Hyakudayu-statue was Phallic, even somehow suggesting.
    I think like other few Japanese writers who wrote “Hyakudayu is phallic shape”, Like them Yung-Hee Kim interpret this parts of Dr. Takigawa’s book same way and wrote Hyakudayu was statue of phallus. ( My guess.)
    Other academics argue that origin of Yujyo was Miko. There are still arguments between academics about origin of Yujyo (from Miko or from people came from ancient Korea)

    ③ Professor Tanaka Tsuguto
    He wrote an article ”Yujyo-ki ni tsuite:about Yujyo-ki:(「遊女記」について:)” in 1998.
    First he quoted original Yujyoki by Oheno Masafusa in Chinese letters, then translated it to old style Japanese, then interpreted to modern Japanese. And add Explanations. He also quoted articles of Dr.Takigawa and others.
    Oheno Masafusa wrote in Yujyo-ki(遊女記):
    ——-By this they play favors, especially worship Hyakudayu. It is same as Dousosin, they carve for each **, up to around 100 or 1000—–it must be worked for hearts of guests, very old customs. {** missed letters}
    In Kugutsu-ki「傀儡子記」,he wrote:
    —-people of Kugutstu believe Hundred gods(百神)—–

    Professor Tanaka said hundred god is same as Hyakudayu (百太夫)
    He didn’t mention Hyakudayu was phallic statue.
    He also mentioned about Ryojinhisyo and that particular song about Hyakudayu.
    He also mentioned Hyakudayu-sya of Nishinomiya-jinjya, is very popular for people of Mizusyoubai(水商売), and worshiped now by them soundly. And Gion of Kyoto there is Ebisu-jinjya in which there is Hyakudayu-sya worshiped by ladies who is working in Gion(祇園)area.
    He said he know well about those Kansai area because he has grown in Kansai.
    He did not mention that those were made by stone, wood, or paper because he did not find such sentence in original Yujyo-ki or in Kugutsu-ki.

    ④ Hyakudayu-jinjya in Nishinomiya- jinjya (rather small shrine in the corner)
    Those below are explanation of Hykudayusha in Nishinomiya-jinjya.
    Its origin came from a legend of Hyakudayu who was the first puppeteer, and become a god of puppeteers and Yujyos.
    Detail of the legend written in English is in the book “Traditional Japanese theater: an anthology of plays, Karen Brazil et all” (can be found by Google).
    In one article of late Edo period, Statue of Haykudayu was written as a little sitting man (kid) of ancient Japanese aristocrat-like, painted white face with pink spots.
    In other article he was drawn on the holly board as like above mentioned man. In front of him there was Dango (boiled wheat ball).
    This Hyakudayu is said to be very popular, there is Hyakudyu-Matsuri.

    ⑤ Hyakudayu-kami in Higashi-Ohno-Hachimann-jinjya
    (東大野八幡神社)in Kitakyusyushi (Kokura).
    There is a Hyakudayu-jinjya.
    It is written in explanation board:
    —–in 735 smallpox was passed along from Shiragi(Old Korea), and many people died, then this shrine was build——
    —-The god of Hyakudayu are one god of disease-cure, one god of recovery of life, one god of eternal life, one god of right-way—–the God changes 1000 way, holly statue is like 100 way, so was called Hyakudayu. The god was known from ancient time as prevent bad disease,
    Also written it is god of Longevity of kids, morns miscarriages.——- {interesting part:水子供養}

    ⑥ Hyakudayu in a Article of late Edo-period,
    Kyukeisoudouzuihistu by Hirose Kyokusou (九桂草堂随筆:広瀬旭荘 1807-1863)
    Hirose made comment about Hyakudayu quoting “Yujyo-ki” and “Kugutsu-ki” that Haykudayu is one of hundred god (Hyakusin) same like Kugutsu-shin.
    For Yujyo he guessed it was also symbolized plenty of Tayus(太夫) resulted as Hyakudayu (Tayu originally means high lank official name of post in Nara-period, later means head person, rich man. In even Edo period highest rank of Yujyo were called as Tayu ).
    Also he wrote that in Geki-nikki(some Old article) there were written about wooden dolls of male and female couples in Kyoto those disposed sexual organs of both sex.
    And he wrote there were many Dousoshins in the country there were not many so called Hyakudayu.
    He wrote about Hyakudayu statue of Nishinomiya-jinjya-Haykudayu when he visited there, it was mentioned in before ④.
    {There are Hykudayu-jinjya in near Gion in Kyouto (Famous of it’s courtesans)}.

    ⑦ My thought
    ⅰ Hyakudayu was thought to be a God originally worshiped by Kugutsu-people (they were man and women, with talent),women sometime became Yujyo. Those people worshiped hundred gods (gods for every thing).
    ⅱ Yujyo worship Haykudayu as effective god(s) for her life also she played favor of her guests naming Hyakudayu (hundreds rich man)?—Dr Takigawa said like “Teruteru-bozu” belief play for rain using white headed monk doll.
    (made 100-1000 for play) ————-「combination—百letter matching」
    *Those ones made by Yujyos might be very simple looks like Kokeshi-doll or phallic statue?
    *There are Dousosinn-shinnkou, people in locals who played everywhere Phallic also female genital statues, for pregnancy, prosperity. In some area Dousoshin are standing statues of male and female couples.
    *Those beliefs are mixed the story that in Prostitution houses they worship Phallic. Big ones,(they called those KONSESHIN:金精神) for prosperity of their business until recently, prostitution became illegal from 1958 in Japan.
    *Hyakudayu also worshipped as Mizuko miscarriage-worship (Recently big temples are doing this role: so so profitable business!)

    ⅲ*Finally Hyakudayu was thought three way(hundred god, Dousoshin, god of puppeteer),those three looks like to be connected somehow each other.
    *Statue of Hyakudayu was possibly like phallic, but is not is sure.
    *Yatabe’s phallic statue looks like firstly a Dousoshin because there was written(ten thousand men’s donation for play:(万人講),also is possibly Konnseishin(金精神), and least possibly Hyakudayu.(as wrote before it was written there were few Hyakudayu in Japan).
    * Before 1958 I think there might be a few prostitute houses in Yatabe. (About this I would like to check), because it was one of important town(Syukuba:宿場) beside road to Mt Tsukuba. So there might be many ladies in sex business (Avi-san-met the old man said he saw ladies in Mizusyoubai once played it). Only them if it was Dousoshin???
    Did those ladies thought it as which one? Still mystery !