Model of a festival float in the shape of a boat.

Past exhibition

20 April – 2 July 2023

Room 3

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For centuries, holidays in Japan have centred on spectacular local festivals.

In towns and cities across the country, people take to the streets to celebrate their neighbourhood's shrine with costumes, dancing, singing and a procession of incredible floats.

This beautifully crafted model of a festival float, set on a wheeled carriage, was donated to the British Museum by the art dealership Yamanaka & Co. in 1908, to mark the Olympic Games in London. However, its story, and even country of origin, remained unclear until investigations which took place during the pandemic.

Recent research through conversations with Japanese researchers has revealed that this float takes the form of the 'state barge' (gozabune), which was the marine transport used by the shogun (hereditary military leaders). The float bears three banners with the crest of the ruling Tokugawa house. 

The model was possibly created by Murakami Tetsudō (1867–1919), a woodworker known for elaborate carvings on festival floats depicting mythological subjects. Working for Yamanaka at their factory in Osaka, Tetsudō led the field in producing Western-style furniture with 'Japoniste' carved ornamentation of dragons, phoenixes, chrysanthemums, turtles and fish. 

The festival float was probably also made at the factory but, in stark contrast, represents a revival of more traditional forms and customs and came to represent ‘old Japan’. 

Japan's longstanding custom of staging local festivals is well documented in paintings, prints and books. The display also featured some of the objects from the British Museum collection that record and celebrate this history.

Exhibition supporter

Supported by

The Asahi Shimbum logo

These displays were made possible by the support of The Asahi Shimbun Company, longstanding corporate sponsors of the British Museum. The Asahi Shimbun is a Japanese leading newspaper and the company also provides a substantial information service via the internet. The company has a century-long tradition of philanthropic support, notably staging key exhibitions in Japan on art, culture and history from around the world. In addition to the Asahi Shimbun Displays, The Asahi Shimbun Company is a committed supporter of the British Museum touring exhibition programme in Japan, and funder of The Asahi Shimbun Gallery of Amaravati sculpture in Room 33a.

The Asahi Shimbun Displays

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