"Geisai" Festival at Tokyo University of the Arts

One of the most distinguished art universities in Japan, the Tokyo University of the Arts 東京藝術大学 (also known as Geidai 藝大) holds an annual three day festival at their main Ueno campus called "Geisai" 藝祭. One of the highlights of the festival and one which regularly attracts much attention is their mikoshi parade. While mikoshi 神輿 usually refers to the shoulder-borne palanquins owned by Shinto shrines and usually paraded during festivals, the gigantic mikoshi at Geisai are specially designed artistic creations showcasing the talents of the university's students.

And what impressive talents they are!

Photographer and artist Shimesaba しめ鯖(@zz_saba) posted photos of the 2019 Geisai mikoshi on his Twitter account, which quickly went viral, garnering over 26,000 likes and 12,000 retweets at time of writing:

Geisai 2019 mikoshi creations

With Shimesaba's gracious permission, we are reproducing his photos here to introduce these astonishing works of art:

This year, four teams created mikoshi, each one named after the academic divisions the participating students are affiliated with. These are, in order of appearance of the photos below, the 『工芸・日本画・邦楽・楽理』(Craft | Japanese Painting | Japanese Music | Music Theory) team, the 『先端・管楽器・彫刻・音環・ピアノ』(Intermedia Arts | Wind Instruments | Sculpture | Musical Creativity and Environment | Piano) team, the 『デザイン・芸術学・作曲・弦楽器』(Design | Art | Composition | String Instruments) team and the 『建築・油画・声楽・打楽器・オルガン・チェンバロ・指揮』(Architecture | Oil Painting | Percussion Instruments | Organ | Harpsichord | Conducting) team.

『白馬』Hakuba (White Horse)

『牛馬』Ushiuma (Bull and Stallion)

『魚』Sakana (Fish)

『恐竜』Kyōryū (Dinosaurs)

Each mikoshi is created around a specific theme, which the teams explain on their respective Twitter accounts, along with their designs for their work:


The "Craft | Japanese Painting | Japanese Music | Music Theory" team's white horse, with the beautiful chrysanthemums on its back, represents the theme of minori 穂り (fruit), which can also be used in the sense of "being fruitful." The team used real leather for the horse's nose cover, and added kanji representing the respective academic divisions in their name, which shows how much effort they put into it. Their mikoshi took home the 『神田明神賞』 Kanda Myojin Prize and the 『六丁目賞』 6-Chome Prize.

Gatekeepers of Hell

The "Intermedia Arts | Wind Instruments | Sculpture | Musical Creativity and Environment | Piano" team's theme was "try as you might to escape, you'll still go though hell." Appropriately enough, their design represents two gatekeepers of hell, one with the head of a bull and the other with that of a stallion. Check out their impressive physique!

Ichthyomorphic Airship

The "Design | Art | Composition | String Instruments" team created a fish-shaped airship which can navigate the skies. Their mikoshi has many attractive features, such as blowing steam and blue lights on its body which shine at night. It won the 『御輿大賞』 Mikoshi Grand Prize and the 『マケット賞』 Maquette Prize at the festival!


Finally, the "Architecture | Oil Painting | Percussion Instruments | Organ | Harpsichord | Conducting" team created a mikoshi in the form of dinosaurs with the theme of evolution. Their splendid work detailing the feathers and skin of the dinosaurs is remarkable. Their mikoshi won the 『岡倉天心・北茨城市長賞』 Okakura Tenshin - Kitaibaraki City Mayor Prize, the 『上野中通商店街振興組合賞』Ueno Nakadori Shopping District Promotion Association Prize and the 『力持ち賞』Strongman Prize!


Here's a 4K video showing these palanquins in motion:

Shimesaba | Yūgen Hitori Ryodan

Shimesaba, whose beautiful photos truly do justice to these remarkable palanquins, also travels the world under the doujin group 幽玄一人旅団 Yūgen Hitori Ryodan (Mysterious One-Man Brigade), capturing scenes and landscapes which look like they were lifted from video games, then sells these photos in a book series called "Distant Worlds."

Here are some photos from his most recent publication, "Distant Worlds 7," featuring England and Scotland:

Shimesaba also does original cosplay photography, and is a leatherwork artist who crafts other-worldly accessories with Steampunk and fantasy inspiration:

If you would like to see more of his work, you can follow him on Twitter, visit his Distant Worlds website, or buy one of his books at Amazon.co.jp

If you're in Japan this month, his doujin circle will have a booth at Comic City 26 on September 15th at Tokyo Big Sight and at Kansai Comitia 56 on September 29th in Osaka.

By - Ben K.