Thirty minutes north of Nagoya, in the heart of the commuter belt, lies Komaki. This town was formed around the castle built by Oda Nobunaga in 1563. The castle was the 3rd to be built by Nobunaga, after Nagoya and Kiyosu. The idea was to make it a staging point from which to take control of Mino to the north. The story goes that Nobunaga knew his retainers wouldn’t be keen on the move, so he first proposed they relocate to Nonomiya, a much less hospitable site. When doubts were raised about the quality of this idea, he the suggested Komaki, his intended destination, as a compromise. His followers had no option but to accept. The castle, rebuilt in 1968, stands proud on Komakiyama – generously translated as Mount Komaki – a bump in an otherwise topographically uninteresting plain. It can be reached on foot from Komaki station on the Meitetsu line.
The wooded hill and the park surrounding it is a pleasant place to spend a few hours walking and resting, and the hike to the top can be made via a variety of pathways of differing ease. The castle itself is not much to look at up close unless you have a fetish for ferro-concrete, but the view is pleasant. Inside is a museum of local history. The displays are detailed and informative, though only if you possess exceptional levels of kanji literacy or a decent translator. Foreign language signs are limited to “mind your head” and “exit”. The exhibition on the Battle of Komaki is enjoyable for even those lacking an internal Rosetta Stone.
With Hideyoshi on one side, and Tokugawa Ieyasu on the other, this was a precursor to the much more famous Battle of Sekigahara, which effectively sealed Japanese fate for the following 250 years. There were settlements in Komaki long before Nobunaga showed up. A few km north, and so modestly advertised that many residents don’t seem to know it’s there, is Aotsuka, an ancient burial mound. Shaped like a giant keyhole 117 metres long, when excavated the interior was found to contain a wealth of pottery. A museum nearby displays many of these items alongside an interesting exhibition on archeology around the country. At the other end of the chronological scale is the Menard Art Gallery, between the castle and the train station. This small gallery has recently reopened after an expansive renovation, and the building itself is a delight, as is the collection. It features pieces by Monet, Picasso, Miro et al, as well as more local artists. The entrance fee is on the high side for the size of the exhibition, but it is worth a visit. By far the most famous feature of Komaki life is the Tagata Jinja fertility festival, known affectionately as the “Penis Festival”.
Every year, on March 15th, a 3 metre long wooden phallus is removed from its blessed home and paraded through the streets to the delight of children, tourists and sake-drenched locals. This festival gains media attention nationwide, and the crowds are packed into the narrow streets around Tagata Jinja. Free sake is available throughout the day, and food stalls spring up in every available space. The point of the whole exercise, as one woman explained to me, is “if you want a baby you rub the end of the man’s most important thing and pray”. Sage advice. Komaki can be reached from Nagoya via the Kamiida subway line which becomes the Meitetsu Komaki line, or by changing trains in Inuyama. Tagata Jinja is cunningly located in front of the Tagatajinjamae station, three stops beyond Komaki.