The last of the Firefighter’s memorial service photos from Asakusa last weekend. I was in ladder heaven! These ladders are traditionally 7m tall, but I have seen both shorter and taller ladders used in different exhibitions. Click on the ladder acrobatics tag to see more of this Japanese tradition on this blog.
Here are some more photos from the firefighters memorial service at the grand Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. As you can guess I am a huge fan of these firefighters and the matoi, the heraldic poles they use in their ceremonies. The cutest thing I saw during the ceremony was a little boy and his father who were following the acrobatics holding their own handmade miniature matoi made in paper and tinfoil. I have seen these ladder teams many times before, enough to have my own favorites, but it was a great sight to see so many of them go up at once!
The oldest temple in Tokyo is the famous Sensoji temple in Asakusa, it was built during the reign of Empress Suiko (554-628 A.D.). It lasted over 1300 years of earthquakes, volcanoes and fires until the bombing raids in March 1945 burnt it to the ground, killing hundreds of thousands. Due to this connection between the temple and the damages of fire, there is these days an annual memorial service for firefighters that have died on the line of duty (消防殉職者慰霊祭). If you go behind the temple, almost hidden under some trees, you’ll find a stone inscribed with the names of the 128 firefighters that gave their live between 1719 and 1940 (the span of the old Edo era firefighting organization). About 1000 shinto and buddhist priests, firefighters, officers and officers of volunteer brigades takes part in the ceremony in front of the memorial stone. Around them in attendance, waits hundreds of firefighters, both presently active, retired and even some future recruits. They are divided into 88 groups, each represented by a matoi, a decorated pole marked with the group’s heraldic symbol. Attached to each group of matoi is a ladder team with hooks and bamboo ladders that stand ready to perform the fantastic ladder acrobatics that Japanese firefighters train on their spare time to hone their skills.
In the old days, the firefighting teams would be alerted by the bell towers which would be manned at all times, they would then man the neighborhood bell, a smaller tower of which there were hundreds all over the city. As they go nearer the fires they would be able to set up their ladders anywhere in a matter of seconds all with the use of nothing but their hooks. One person would then man a nearby roof with a matoi, and using it as a beacon to summon the team members and warning residents of which way the wind was blowing at the same time. If the wind was blowing the tassels of the matoi in your direction and there was a fire in front of it, you knew your house was in serious danger. Each building in Edo was required by law to have an adequate supply of rain water and each block had a station set up which extra water and buckets. All buildings that were large enough also had rain water barrels on top of the roofs for easy access during emergencies. The people of Edo took firefighting very seriously.
I’ll post more photos of this short ceremony later this week, but please enjoy these few from the start of the ceremony.
At the Shirasaginomai, White Egret Dance, in Tokyo’s Asakusa district last month I saw these adorable little pre-schoolers taking part in the pre-ceremony parade. The kids were followed by adults in charge of the ceremony and then the dancers. The next full ceremony is sceduled for November, so if you are in town, you’ll know where to go!