Japanese Parade Floats from the 1800s

marade float MFA 2

image courtesy Boston MFA

The photo above was taken by an unknown photographer in 1871, a mere 30 years after the world’s first photographs began emerging. The artist captured a massive, precarious float (known as dashi) parading through the streets of Hakata, in Southern Japan. Much of the specifics remain unknown, but my best guess would be that it was part of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa, a 700-year old festival that takes place in early July.

Either way, it’s a fascinating photograph of an incredible, elaborate structure. It’s actually hard to believe it’s a photograph, but I’m going to go with the word of the Boston MFA, until someone proves it wrong.

Dashi (written 山車, the characters for mountain and car) have been around for hundreds of years and play a central role in Shinto festivals that celebrate the gods. It was thought that Shinto gods originally descended onto mountainous peaks, hence height and overall resemblance to mountains. It was also customary for the floats to be heavily decorated with mountain imagery.

Here are some other old pictures and paintings of Dashi. But none quite compare to the first photograph.

parade float - fukuno

image courtesy Fukuno Yotaka Festival

parade float -kawagoe

image courtesy kawagoe matsuri

parade float - MFA

Parade Floats of the Gion Festival on the Seventh Day of the Sixth Month | image courtesy Boston MFA

source: DDN Japan



  1. Wow! And I thought the floats in contemporary Ishikawa were impressive!

  2. 非常喜欢!都非常有创意!我是画中国画的,可以在你们网站发些作品相互交流吗?谢谢!李慧
    Like it very much. Very creative! I was painting China painting, can send some work on your website to communicate? Thank you. Li Hui

  3. Wow, that first photo is incredible. Do they still build dashi for festivals today.

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