There are very few professions for which ‘death defying’ is par for the course, but it is safe to say that fire fighters certainly fall into that category. As if leaping into and out of burning buildings wasn’t enough, at the start of every January the members of the Tokyo Fire Department cheat death in order to entertain the general public at that Dezome-shiki Fire Fighter Review.
Dezome-shiki is held annually in Tokyo’s Koto-ku, and is a parade of around 2,600 professional fire-fighters with the joint aims of raising fire safety awareness and praying for the security of the brave men and women who risk their lives combating fires in the nation’s capital.
The Dezome-shiki parade has its origins in the Edo period (1603-1868), a time when fire fighting was even more dangerous than it is now. As many Edo properties were heated by kagizuru, open hearths in the centre of the home, the city was prone to great fires which burned large parts of the city with terrifying regularity, particularly following earthquakes. For this purpose, full time fire services were stationed to protect important sites such as Edo Castle.
Fire fighting was in fact a dramatically different prospect in Edo Japan. Rather than cannoning water onto an inferno, fires were instead battled by dismantling any properties surrounding a blaze, therefore starving the fire of further fuel and it going out of its own accord. As such most fire fighters were in actual fact scaffolders; strong, surefooted, nimble men who were able to quickly erect a scaffold and pull down whole buildings under the threat of impending flames.
The Dezome-shiki Parade originated with firemen praying in front of the Ueno Toshugo shrine for safety in the coming year, and some of these ancient practices remain. A particular crowd favourite is the death-defying ladder acrobatics, Cirque du Soleil style scramblings up six metre (20 ft.) bamboo ladders. Of course the ladders were an important tool in the Edo period battle against the elements as they scuttled up and down the hastily erected scaffolds, and these agile young men presumably first performed these stunts to show off their capabilities to their colleagues. Some three hundred years later the displays still have the power to surprise and provoke awe in spectators.
There are similar events held around the country this time of year, but Tokyo’s event at the Tokyo Big Sight is perhaps the most spectacular of them all. Of course the traditional acrobatics are impressive, but there are also high-tech fire fighting drills and water cannon displays which have their roots more in the modern day and involve more than 100 fire engines, helicopters and boats. As well as watching, spectators are invited to ride inside fire engines or experience a realistic earthquake in a simulator machine for a hands on experience. Children are especially welcome, with mascots and famous cartoon characters present to entertain and delight them. Last year it was the ever-popular Doraemon!
January 6, 2018
Tokyo Big Sight
Tokyo Big Sight, Exhibition Hall 1E
Tokyo Big Sight – 3 Chome-11-1 Ariake, Koto, Tokyo 135-0063 (map link)
Closest stations: Ariake station on the Yurikamome and Rinkaisen lines
By Mark Guthrie
Image: flickr.com “Hiroshima “Dezome-shiki” New Year Firefighter Display“ by GetHiroshima.com (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)