Visit Tokyo “Fire Museum” and probe Japan’s firefighting history

   Exhibit Firefight practice in Japan from the past to the present

Fire M- logo x01.JPG     There’s a unique museum publicizing Japan’s firefighting Fire M- Overview x02.JPGtechnology and history in Yotsuya-Shinjuku, Tokyo. This is called  the “Fire Museum” being set up in 1992 by Tokyo Fire Department.  I had a chance to  visit this museum recently.       It is  known well that big fires  have repeatedly assaulted Japan’s big cities and plagued Japanese people’s life many times in history.
     Japan’s housing structure is quite prone to the fire because they were predominantly made by Fire M- current x13.JPG wooden materials. WhenFire M- Illust x03 looking back to Edo and Tokyo  in the past,  a number of large-scale fires  occurred and burned down the entire cities claiming hundreds of thousands local populations.  On this problem, many measures have been taken in Japan, particularly in the metropolitan Edo and Tokyo area for minimizing damages in the past.      The museum deals with these fire and firefighting problem and tries to show what kind of disaster prevention measures have beenFire M- Edo x03 taken so far, what kind of Fire M- Illust x19firefighting system has developed in order to raise  disaster prevention awareness among local residence. Many exhibits are provided  to indicate this historical issues by showing real vehicles and equipment, dioramas, photographs and pictures, etc. It would be one of the best facilities to probe the history of firefighting and disaster prevention measures in Japan, especially in Tokyo area.


♣  Outline of Museum’s exhibition and its feature

Fire M- Illust x01.JPG     The museum has two major sections which introduce a history of Fire M- Illust x18.JPGfirefighting system for first one and the physical equipment and facilities for the other, such as fire engines and fire apparatus. In the history section, they are giving a comprehensive explanation on the early days “fire-extinguishing” system, transition of its mechanisms and tools in the Edo period as a system of ” Dawn” of firefighting practice. Next comes the introduction of modern firefighting system after the Meiji Era, includes the modernization of fire equipment Fire M- current x09.JPGand organization of fire institution, its prevention measures, and their roles expanding toward rescue works of natural disasters and so on.
In the second physical development section, they convey the significant enhancement of equipment in the past and present in the exhibition, such as they it exhibit various actual fire vehicles, ambulance cars, helicopters, in addition to the disaster brigades’ equipment which embodies the history and Fire M- current x01.JPGdevelopment of firefighting technology in detail.     The museum seems to provide a wide range of activities as well, including a disaster prevention campaign corner, a mini theater, and a library and training room for raising daily prevention awareness.
It seems to cover a wide range of useful exhibits that give live image of modern firefighting activities not only to fight against fires but also to engage large-scale disasters such as earthquakes, emergency medical care, and other roles.

♣   Firefighting in the Edo period seen from the exhibition-“Hikeshi”

Fire M- Illust x12.JPG      Most houses and buildings in Japan were made of wood, because of it Japan’s housing environment can easily lead to big fires, the especially Fire M- Edo x02.JPGdensely populated Edo’s urban area had always been vulnerable to the threat of large fires. As a matter fact, dozens of devastating large-scale fires had been frequently occurred in the Edo city and burn down whole urban area many times. Among them the “Meireki Fire” in the early 17th century was the most serious fires, which threw the Edo into a disastrous sea of fire and claimed hundreds of thousand people’s lives.
Fire M- Illust x19.JPG     After this, the Edo Shogunate had been beginning to take a major anti-fire urban measures and established systematic firefighting systems. For instance, the Edo government set up dozens of firefighting squads and created the fire extinguishing Fire M- Edo x04.JPGsquares “Hirokoji” in addition to the large-scale urban relocation measures.

In 1650, the first Edo’s “Jo-Bikeshi” (Stationed Fire squad) was organized in Edo, and in 1712, additionally “Daimyo Bikeshi”, a fire squad for protecting Samurai’s residence was also born in 1712.  However, it became clear being insufficient as an all-out firefighting to protect whole Edo city, because primarily it aimed at protecting samurai Fire M- Illust x14.JPGFire M- Edo x05.JPGareas only. Because of this, Shogun Yoshimune organized a town fire extinguisher “Machi Bikeshie” in 1718 consisting roughly 10,000 scale of own town people.  This town-based brave fire extinguisher has often been appearing in the “Kabuki” theater scene as a heroic character for Edo people people at that time.  Fire M- Illust x22    However, the firefighting method at that time was called “destruction firefighting system” and was a very primitive way basically aimed at breaking down surrounding houses of fire origins and preventing fires expanding further rather than on-site intensive firefighting system. The museum exhibits a diorama describing the scene of destructive fire and heroic extinguishing ways by this breaking method. Also, in this section, the disaster prevention equipment, water troughs, and hand-pumps called “Ryudosui” pump at the time were on display too. You can get a glimpse of the fire extinguishing at that time thereFire M- Edo x03.JPG.Fire M- Edo x06   In the Edo period, a lot of fire watching tower “Hinomi Yagura” were constructed in the various locations and variety of fire alert measures were taken, but when looking at the exhibition, we are inclined to see how difficult it was to prevent big fires in Edo at that time by such immature systems and technology in the past.

♣   Firefighting system after the Meiji modernization seen from the exhibition

Fire M- Illust x08.JPG      With the Meiji Restoration, ““Jo-Bikeshi” “Daimyo Bikeshi” Extinguishers were all abolished, and “Machi Bikeshi” system was reorganized into the Fire M- Meiji x09.JPGmodern extinguisher unit “Fire Department” under the Tokyo City government in 1872.  After that, the similar fire brigade system was spread to the other areas as a public institute nationwide as an efficient fire brigade (1894).  Along with this shift, the firefighting system and technology have drastically mechanized and modernized involving firefighting Fire M- Meiji x04.JPGorganizations, extinguishing methods, and fire Fire M- Meiji x05.JPGprevention equipment. This is clearly shown in the exhibition. For example, at the venue you can figure out how the firefighting had been done. For example, new extinguisher using steam pump, horse carriage fire engine, modern fire wear and tools, in addition the depiction by “Nishiki-e” picture (woodblock print) and other exhibits.  In the following time, the firefighting system is further improved and appeared fire engine cars.

Fire M- Illust x09.JPG    These series of evolution of firefighting equipment can be Fire M- Taisho x02.JPGseen in the exhibition as well.     Anyway, it was actually after the “Kanto Earthquake” in 1927 when the firefighting system has transformed from mere firefighting to more “disaster prevention” beyond previous boundaries. Their activities have been significantly expand to cover more broad field associated with natural disasters and changed their functions as well.    Exhibits show videos of fire brigade members working in the aftermath of the earthquake, Fire M- current x03.JPGincreasing number of fire engines and disaster response equipment, and the spread of organized activities well.   Moreover, after the War, fire brigades’ perceived works have enforced further in response to the rapid urbanization and rushed construction of high-rise buildings, even expected to cover diversified natural disasters. You can see the emergence of ladder cars for tall buildings, the start of emergency services, the activities of disaster rescue units, and the like there.

♣   Development of fire trucks

Fire M- Meiji x08.JPG      Among the modernized firefighting activities, the technology development is outstanding in the equipment field, particularly emergence of “fire engines” vehicle and its advancing functions can be noted. It was in 1924 when the first fire engines were introduced in Japan. They were the “Ahren’s Fox Fire Pump Car” (1924) and the “Stats Fire M- Taisho x01Fire Engine” (1924). These are on display in a museum along with other successive fire trucks. For example, Maxim fire pump truck (1929) and ladder trucks include Iveco Margis, Benz Mets, Isuzu ladder truck etc.  Regarding ambulances, a Toyota-made ambulance car was displayed on live conditions so that you can examine inside the car. You can also see a disaster prevention helicopter which used until lately as well.

♣   Development of firefighting equipment

Fire M- Illust x21.JPG   The evolution of firefighting equipment and tools since the modern firefighting system have been remarkable, and this progress can be found in the exhibition too.  The display of fire extinguisher costumes and tools of Edo period is quite interesting, as it reflects the features of firefighting at Fire M- current x08.JPGthe time. When it came to the Meiji era, their costumes changed to Western-style styles, and tools developed to the modern functional ones. And as it gets closer in the style to the present, so you can see many fire equipment that have become more scientific and technological advanced ones. It would be an evidence how technology has been cultivated to be able to qualify the fire equipment to be safer and effective fighting against extreme fire heat and Fire M- equipment x01.JPGflame.     The exhibition clearly shows that the firefighting organization and technology have been constantly progressing to fulfill an important role in the society through disaster prevention activities.


♣   Modern firefighter’s style in the exhibition

Fire M- current x04.JPG   One of the features of modern firefighting activities is that they play a role not only in firefighting but also in emergency and disaster response. One of the important pillars in this regard would be an activity of “disaster rescue squad”.  The major facilities to technologically support their activities were the advanced equipment such as “disaster helicopter”, “chemical fire truck”, “ladder truck”, “ambulance” Fire M- current x07.JPGetc. In the museum, the firefighting helicopter, which had been active until recently, is displayed as the main object on the rooftop and entrance hall, as well as the ladder cars and ambulances mentioned above. a large number of disaster rescue equipment are also exhibited there.      On the other hand, disaster prevention and awareness-raising activities Fire M- current x06Fire M- current x02.JPG proactively going to promote in recent year as a current movement by the Tokyo fire departments. The Museum provides a special socializing section of “Fire Prevention Lounge” which displays lots of fire prevention equipment at home, disaster preparing goods and board to explain how to use them and how to prepare for disasters. It has been shown that the current fire department is not only responding to complex disaster events but also focusing on how to prevent them in advance.

Last remarks

Fire M- Illust x15.JPG  I knew the existence of museum from before, but this was my first visit to look into the exhibition. It was amazing the facilities that is well Fire M- Edo x01designed and their exhibition in rich.     If we look at the Japanese urban environment, they are quite vulnerable to large-scale fires, and devastating fires always have been major concerns of our societies, because the general residential houses were dominantly wooden built in Japan.  In Edo or Tokyo, as a densely populated metropolitan city, even various fire measures have been taken since the Edo era, and a “fire extinguishing” organization has been well facilitated, but it couldn’t prevent dozens of big devastating fires and always gave huge damage to the Fire M- current x11.JPGFire M- current x12.JPGcity.  Even after the Meiji era, big fire was still a great threat to our society. In this situation a new fire department has been set up in Tokyo as government organization to modernize fire prevention functions and strengthen disaster preparations.  This “Fire Museum” looks emphasize the importance of disaster prevention by showing historical trends in an easy-to-understand format.
By this visit, I was able to learn a lot about the current disaster prevention activities, Fire M- Illust x10.JPGthe history of fire prevention systems, and the changes in disaster prevention technologies. It was a valuable visit for me to raise awareness of importance of disaster prevention. I felt I’d like to visit other facilities to inform us well regarding the natural disaster prevention measures if there are locations.



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