How Taoist-Confucian ideology helped the Yamato rulers accommodate the indigenous fertility and phallic cults in Japan


Hōnen Matsuri at Tagata Shrine in Komaki

Hōnen Matsuri at Tagata Shrine (Wikipedia)

The Tagata and O-Agata shrines of Japan attract a great deal of interest both from locals as well as from abroad … for the phallic cult and fertility festivals.

The Tagata shrine and its paired O-Agata shrine actually enshrine and venerate a royal princess, who according to local tradition, was the daughter and husband of feudal lords who belonged  with the warrior aristocrat retinue from Nara. The Tagata shrine lies over the former residence of the Tamahime princess. This begs the question as to why the Yamato royal elites would be presiding over the phallic fertility festivals of the region they had settled or pacified.

Harvest Festival at Oh-Agata Shrine (Hime-no-miya Shrine)

Harvest Festival at Oh-Agata Shrine (Hime-no-miya Shrine) image: Japanguides

For clues to the answer, we look to the Taoist worldview and ideology that had been borrowed from China.

In Nara, the centre of Yamato state rule, the royal courtly culture was strongly influenced by continental traditions and customs, and Taoist beliefs governed every aspect of their daily lived. A veritable “Ministry of Magic” called the Bureau of Divination or Onmyoryo, headed by Taoist priests laid down yin-yang /in-yo rules for daily life and through its divination ritual practices, influenced the major and most important decisions of the day, such as when and whether to go to war, or to cross the seas in undertaking diplomatic missions or military expansions.

Phallic cults and festivals are often identified with Shintoism and assumed to be strictly local and indigenous since phallic rods and henges have been erected during prehistoric times and in early Japan. As such, they are commonly believed to be unconnected to or uninfluenced by royal customs which were foreign continental practices.

However, we suggest that the local indigenous phallic rituals and corresponding vaginal fertility cultic practices and beliefs were easily accommodated by the new system of Taoist beliefs that were taking root in Japan and forming the Way of Yin and Yang, the traditional Japanese traditional esoteric cosmology. The local fertility cults co-existed and appear to have been encouraged, institutionalized and presided over by the royal elites from Nara who established themselves as feudal lords over expanded local areas. As support for this idea, we highlight the interplay of phallic and womb-fertility component concepts inherent in Taoism-Confucian culture as it existed in the Longshan and Shang warring aristocrat communities, the continental cultural crucible for the ideas imported into Nara Japan. It may also be profitable to note the interaction of the idea of the Confucian Heavenly Divine mandate with Taoist beliefs on the continent,  may have influenced the structure of “heavenly” ruling clan deities of Yamato vs. the “earthly deities” of the localities seen in the Kojiki and Nihongi chronicles.

For support of the foregoing, we draw upon Don Lehman jr.’s writings “The Tao of China”, in which Lehman sees the historical events of the Eurasian continent as a polarization and interplay of cultures of the Bronze Age warring nomadic aristocracies and the sedentary farming agri-cultures as the former group impinges upon the lands of the latter. At Chapter 24 he lprovides a new geophysical paradigm for understanding the interaction of and interplay between the indigenous fertility phallic-womb beliefs of early prehistoric and protohistoric Japanese and the warrior and central ruling ideologies that were intrusions of the central governance from Yamato court:

“…during the Shang dynasty that there was a differentiation between the Government and the Clan. In this section we will see that during the Shang the religion of government differentiated itself from the indigenous fertility cults. The religion of government eventually became Confucianism, while the religions of fertility became Taoism. The yang phallic quest for power separated itself from the yin vaginal quest for fertility. While the religion of government was phallic, Taoism was vaginal. The roots of Taoism are in the Paleolithic as exhibited by their injunction against dependency upon agriculture. Because of their reliance upon Nature, Taoism is predicated upon a greater trust of the Tao of Heaven.

Phallus power vs. Vaginal fertility cultures

Phallic symbols represent Shang Gods

Traditionally the military cultures based upon the pursuit of power have been male based and phallus oriented. This started with the phallic spear of Homo erectus. The Shang culture followed this pattern. Their most important god was Shang Ti, the supreme ancestor. Next in importance was Shê, the god of the earth. The archaic pictogram for both ancestor and Shê is a phallic symbol. These cults have continued down to the present day. [1] This phallic orientation probably was a continuation of the Longshan with its emphasis on warfare. This stratified society with the phallic male on top is certainly reflected in the Confucian hierarchy with the male emperor on top of the father-dominated family. Hence Confucianism is based upon the Bronze Age military culture.

Vaginal symbols Taoist [ see photo of female rocks at O-agata shrine]

While the power-based cultures are normally centered on the phallus, the fertility based cultures oriented upon generation and creativity have been gynocentric, i.e. focused upon the female vagina. Taoism follows this pattern. The Taoist symbolism is riddled with references to the mysterious female, pregnancy and birth. Below is just one of the many vaginal references from the Taoist Bible, the Tao Te Ching.
“#10. Can you play the role of the female in the opening and closing of the gates of Heaven.”[2]

Vaginal Taoism polar opposite to Phallic Empire

Taoism was and is linked to the female vagina, emulating the pregnant state of the woman, to give birth to oneself. The Taoists tend to advocate small and decentralized political structures. The Shang ancestor worship was linked with the phallus, the male, the father, a patriarchy. This eventually connects up with the imperial structure with Confucianism. Thus the phallic orientation of the religion of the state oriented around Shang Ti, is a polar opposite to the vaginal orientation of Taoism whose focus is upon vitality and creativity.

Taoism/fertility: Confucianism/power

Worshipping the fertility of the woman, Taoism has been main force behind Chinese artistic expression. Behind Confucianism is the warrior ethic, which developed during the Shang…Taiji Quan has its roots in Chinese warrior training of the Shang dynasty. Confucianism, in worshipping the power of the man, has been the main force behind all of Chinese politics. This split occurred during the Shang, with its stratification of society into a military aristocracy, an agri-cultural peasantry, and the artistic class.

Taoism Paleolithic not Neolithic

The focus of Taoism upon female fertility links it with the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer fertility cults. While fertility was worshipped by the agri-cultures, it was linked with the fertility of the soil. The fertility worshipped by the hunter-gatherers had to do with fertility of Nature itself. First these cultures worshipped the propagation of the species as symbolized by their many fertility figurines. Second as hunter-gatherers they were dependent upon the annual rebirth of the natural flora and fauna. The female fertility figures, which symbolize this northern fertility culture, originated deep in the Paleolithic and were merely continued in the Neolithic agri-cultures…. Due to the sedentary and annual nature of agriculture, their [farmers’] freedom was severely limited. Also because of the nature of the military aristocracy, the farmers were and are always prone to domination.”

“Unpredictability of Nature brings freedom

While the unpredictability of nature was insecure, it brought freedom. Cultures depending only upon the bounty of Nature were simultaneously the most insecure and the freest. This worship of nature is very different from the worship of nature by the agri-cultures. The agri-cultures worship the rainfall and the ground to bring good crops which they need to feed themselves and their livestock. The agri-cultures have taken matters into their own hands, depending upon their own efforts rather than trusting Heaven’s Will.

Livestock, the original corruption

One Taoist story is of a Taoist going to live in the freedom of a mountain. A friend gives him a goat. Caring for the goat leads the Taoist into the binding agricultural lifestyle, complete with fences and dependency upon the soil[4]. In this story the livestock lead to the inhibited agricultural lifestyle. …

Yielding to the Tao or The trust in divinity

…Ironically one of Adam’s sins was the lack of trust in divinity. He wanted to taste the duality of choice rather than depend upon the wisdom of greater powers. The knowledge of Good and Evil fragmented his original wholeness into parts. Depending upon the unpredictability of Nature, means the cultivation of trust. The unpredictability of natural events can be so anxiety provoking as to be paralyzing. At that point of an individual becomes paralyzed by fear or anxiety, no matter how slight it might be, freedom is gone. Thus while unpredictability can lead to freedom it can also lead to anxiety that paralyzes. Each of us has our own line at which time too much freedom becomes paralyzing. Where the line is drawn is based upon our level of trust of nature or divinity or whatever.

Trust in the continuity of cycles: Up always follows the down

The first level of trust is simply believing that one day, that one season, and that the years will follow with some regularity and continuity. Believing that the fertility of spring will follow the barrenness of winter, relieves the anxiety of winter. The anxiety we experience in each of our personal winters, the darkness before the dawn, is eliminated if we unswervingly trust that day follows night as surely as spring follows winter. The long-term perspective based upon trust relieves the anxiety of being too present. Children even go through periods of fear of the dark, which only reflects their anxiety that they might not survive the night. Many anxieties are rooted in this lack of trust during the down cycles…From the Tao Te Ching:

“5. Heaven-and-Earth is not sentimental;
It treats all things as straw dogs.”
Highest level of trust in the Tao of Heaven

For those that discriminate, the trust that everything happens for the best is insufficient to relieve anxiety. For the Taoist the highest level of trust according to my limited perceptions is the trust that aligning oneself with the Tao of Heaven is the best one can do, regardless of outcome or consequence. If one is given an evil or tragic role, one must still fulfill it to the best of one’s ability.
This level of trust is rooted in the unreality of the phenomenal world …

This higher level of trust is rooted in the Buddhist notion of unreality of the phenomenal world. Investing in the polarities of good and evil, life and death, (as did Adam and Eve) only leads to disappointment and suffering. In between the polarity of yin and yang is Taiji. Taking a yin yang bath in the non-duality of existence divests one of attachment.

Yielding to the Will of Heaven

Hence this higher level of trust is based upon the trust in Nature, not because natural events are for the best or a punishment for past transgressions, but only because Nature is so powerful that we are helpless before it… This type of trust is of a slightly different nature. The trust is a yielding to the Power of Nature, Divinity, the Will of Heaven. Hoping to fulfill Destiny but unattached. Relaxed before the potential of our aborted fate. Not assuming that because we are good people that we are blessed and protected by the almighty. But instead blessing each moment as the Grace of Conscious existence.

Taiji: trust in the Tao, not technique

In Taiji, the trust comes from the same root. Fear is based upon investment in duality. The divestment in the duality lessens the fear. The trust is based upon being in the Womb of the Mother. It is so comfortable and warm that even if she asks for your sacrifice you are thankful for the few brief moments that you have been able to reside in her womb. … Hence the trust in Taiji is not based upon trust of technique but instead upon the trust in existence. If your technique is not sufficient and you take a few knocks, so be it.

Trust that quietude will reveal the Will of Heaven

For the Taoist there is one other primary trust. This is the trust that the Tao of Nature, the Will of Heaven, is revealed in the midst of extreme quietude. While the Buddhists seek quietude in the pursuit of detachment, the Taoists seek quietude to allow the Tao of Nature to emerge and be listened to. The Buddhists seek the emptiness of the Void. The Taoists see the Void between yin and yang, but it is not empty. It is filled with purpose and meaning.


The ancestor worship of the Longshan clans and Shang government was oriented around phallic power, while the Taoism has always been oriented around vaginal fertility. The traditions based around the government and ancestor worship eventually coalesced around Confucianism, while the traditions centered upon cultivating fertility became associated with Taoism. Taoism is based in the freedom and insecurity of the Paleolithic while Confucianism is based in the military aristocracy of the Bronze Age. The insecurity of freedom is neutralized by the trust that doing the Will of Heaven, the Tao of Nature, is the best that we can do…”

We can see Lehman’s described dynamic of the underlying warrior-rule and dominance as well as the Taoist-Shinto elements at work in the fertility phallic-vs.-womb pairing of the respective Tagata and O-Agata shrines. It is significant that both shrines enshrine the Tamahime goddess who according to local tradition was the princess and daughter of Ogata, feudal aristocrats from the Nara court.

Manifesting the dualism of in-yo harmony, the Tagata shrine’s phallic-penis displays are paired with the “vaginal” womb celebrations of the nearby O-Agata shrine, see Green Shinto’s “Fertility festival (Ohgata shrine)

“Oh-agata Jinja is a shrine near Nagoya dedicated to Oh-Agata, a kami who is said to have founded the local area of Owari County. It’s known for its female fertility symbols and attracts women seeking marriage or the birth of a child. As such it’s paired with nearby Tagata Jinja, famed for its ‘big penis’ festival about which I wrote recently.

A central role is played by the Hime no miya subshrine, where the daughter of Oh-Agata is worshipped. Known as Tamahime no mikoto, she is a goddess of marriage, pregnancy, safe birth and happy conjugal life. ‘Above all,’ says the shrine brochure, ‘she is worshipped as the guardian goddess of women.’

The shrine’s Grand Festival takes place on the Sunday prior to March 15, when the Tagata festival is held. Like similar fertility festivals, it is aimed at securing good harvests and prosperity. The parade is led by Sarutahiko, kami of showing the way, and features unmarried women and a vaginal symbol made of pink rice.”


That the paired Tagata and O-agata shrines show the Taoist yin-yang principles at work, is also confirmed by the commentary on Honen Matsuri in the Encyclopedia of Shinto:

Good Harvest Festival. A festival held at Ōagata Shrine (Ōagata jinja) in Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture. The Sunday closest to March 15 is the festival day. Also called the Hime no Miya Hōnen Festival. The festival complements the Good Harvest Festival of Tagata Shrine and is famous for the worship of genitalia. Called the Yin (in or female) festival in contrast to the Yang (yō or male) festival of Tagata Shrine, rocks symbolizing the female genitals are enshrined. There is a procession of a sacred palanquin (mi-koshi) representing the female genitals, great banners (ō-nobori), and decorated horses. Good luck mochi are scattered from a sacred palanquin carrying a giant clam. In front of the shrine hall onlookers scramble for valuable items hanging from the large sakaki. These are talismans for safe birth, getting married, and satisfaction in married life.
There is also the Good Harvest Festival on the Sunday closest to March 15 at Tagata Shrine in Komaki City, Aichi Prefecture. It is said that this transporting of the deity rite is based on a legend about the enshrined kami, Takeinazumi-no-mikoto, who had an enormous penis and took to wife the local Aratahime-no-mikoto. The festival involves the transporting of the deity from Shinmei Shrine or Kubo Temple to Tagata Shrine. A linga (penis) almost two meters in length rides on the sacred palanquin, following a large banner upon which a penis is drawn. The banner is carried by youths, and at the shrine the onlookers scramble to claim pieces of it. The talismans that are on the banner pieces are skewered, and it is said that if these are placed in the fields the harvest will be good. It is also said they will bless one with good relationships and keep away sexual diseases. It is said that if one does not attend both this festival and the Yin festival at Ōagata Shrine then one will not prosper. — Mogi Sakae


Sources and Further readings:

Honen Matsuri, the Encyclopedia of Shinto

Don Lehman jr.’s writings “The Tao of China”, Chapter 24

The Tagata shrine and the “vaginal” womb celebrations of the nearby O-Agata shrine, Shinto’s “Fertility festival (Ohgata shrine or O-Agata shrin)

The Bureau of Yin-yang Divination, Onmyodo (the Encyclopedia of Shinto)

Eccentric Spaces, Hidden Histories: Narrative, Ritual, and Royal Authority from the Chronicles of Japan to the Tale of the Heike by David T. Bialock


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s