The Tokyo Fire Museum

ByMichael Stigall
Jul 24, 2023

The Tokyo Fire Museum

Tokyo’s massive number of people and buildings packed into the smallest area imaginable has always left me with more than a few questions. One of the most prominent questions has always been, “How does this place not turn into a tinderbox whenever something catches fire?” Luckily, the Tokyo Fire Museum can finally answer this question and provide many other answers about disaster prevention in one of the world’s largest cities.

This museum is dedicated to the founding and continuing operations of the Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Bureau, which controls fire protection for the 23 Wards of Tokyo and most of the towns within the western Tokyo prefecture. Just as the Metropolitan Police of Tokyo sets a precedent for the other 46 Prefectural police departments, so does the Tokyo Fire Bureau. Because of this, many exhibits depict the various “firsts in Japan” in firefighting. But one of the main exhibits is how the department came into being at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration.

Fires during the Feudal Period were common since everything was made from timber, and most dwellings had fire pits inside. Everything from small shacks to the biggest castles and places of worship burned, so the concept of a fire brigade is nothing new. Fire extinguishing tools were crude and rudimentary, long sticks with paddles to beat the embers down and water bucket lines being the most common. The predominant tactic was tearing down structures around the blaze and dousing other buildings to prevent the fire’s spread. This changed when the Meiji Parliament and the newly formed Tokyo City government engaged the French and Germans in modern firefighting techniques. One whole floor of the museum walks you through this transition.

Another floor is dedicated to the modern operations of the TFB and has many interactive exhibits for old and young. Best of all, this information is entirely bilingual in both Japanese and English! I cannot stress how happy I am to see kid-focused exhibits that include both languages to make it easy for foreign children to have fun. Bravo, Tokyo Fire! The museum’s exhibits will capture a child’s (and most adults) attention spans from the half-sized fire chopper cockpit to an entire neighborhood fire response moving diorama.

What would a fire museum be without fire trucks? I don’t know because the basement level includes a representative of every fire vehicle TFB has ever rolled on or flown over the streets of Tokyo! I noticed that until WWII, most of the vehicles were German, made by Mercedes Benz and Metchtz. Of course, Isuzu and Nissan-Hino are making the most of them these days.

The museum is located within a working fire station, so I was half expecting to see firefighters sliding down poles and polishing hose connections and maybe a Dalmatian lying about. My American firehouse stereotypes were dashed because that side of the house is walled off from view, but I’m told there are open house-style tours over there; ask to see a schedule if this interests you.

There’s also a library of record and training, and since the building itself is a bit taller than the surrounding ones, an observation deck/rest space with vending machines so you and the family can catch a breather if needed. The best thing about all this is the price — FREE!! It’s a great way to kill a few hours with the little ones if you’re in between appointments in the city.

Tokyo Fire Museum

Tokyo Fire Museum
10-4, Yotsuya 3-Chōme Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo
Transit: Yotsuya San-chome Station [M11], Exit 2
Hours: 9:30 am ~5 pm every day except Monday. If Monday is a holiday, then closed the next business day.
Price: Free

江戸村のとくぞう (Edomura no Tokuzo), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Michael Stigall editor

Leave a Reply