A scale model of a Japanese festival float that was donated to the British Museum to mark the 1908 London Olympics has gone on display for a few weeks. Even though it’s only a model, and far smaller than the real thing, it’s still a substantial sized object that’s been expertly carved from wood and assembled.

Although the museum knew it has been donated to the British Museum by the art dealership Yamanaka & Co. in 1908, to mark the Olympic Games in London, 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’.

The display also features some of the objects from the British Museum collection that record and celebrate the history of Japan’s summer festivals, and there are some lovely prints on one of the walls.

The exhibition, Japan’s festival floats is at the British Museum until 2nd July 2023. It’s free to visit, and you can find it in the first room on the right just as you go into the museum’s front entrance.


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One comment
  1. Martin Brown says:

    Ian visits info is frequently more informative and useful than many of the more ‘official’ sites!

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