Festivals of Japan: Dezome-shiki (New Year’s Parade of Firemen) in Tokyo
By John Asano
Every year on January 6th members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Department risk their lives in a death-defying display to welcome in the New Year and entertain the public. The Dezome-shiki or New Year’s Parade of Firemen is a New Year’s event held at Tokyo Big Sight in Tokyo.
The event is held by the Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Department to remind and warn citizens of the dangers of fire and to pray for a safe New Year. It has its origins in the Edo period (1603-1868), a time when many great fires struck Edo (modern-day Tokyo), burning down a lot of the city. Following a very big fire in 1657, the jobikeshi fire brigade was formed to protect the city and strategic sites such as Edo Castle with fire corps stationed full-time in four locations in Edo.
The Dezome-shiki features a parade of over 100 vehicles and helicopters from the Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Department, high-tech fire-fighting equipment, large-scale fire-fighting and emergency drills, and various spectacular performances including a display of death-defying ladder stunts, Cirque du Soleil style.
The highlight and main attraction of the event is the amazing ladder stunts, which have a long history behind them. During the Edo period, ladders were indispensable tools, because the firefighters had to climb the roofs of buildings quickly and nimbly in order to prevent fires from spreading to nearby buildings. The ladder stunts highlight the great agility and strength necessary to scale the ladders with circus-like acrobatics by the highly trained and skilled teams. The performance will astound and surprise you with its acrobatic stunts on top of the 20 foot ladders that tower over the heads of the men supporting them.
The Dezome-shiki pays homage to the tradition of the Edo period firemen with the performers dressed as firemen, scaling bamboo ladders reminiscent of the period to the sound of traditional Japanese music. The fire-fighting teams are dedicated to the art and to preserving the skills and traditions of the Edo fire-fighters.
Similar events are held across Japan on January 6th with the Tokyo event considered the biggest and most spectacular. The Dezome-shiki is a fun way to celebrate the New Year in Tokyo with thrilling acrobatic performances and a spectacular historical reconstitution of Edo period fire-fighters in action.
Location: Higashi Parking Lot of Tokyo Big Sight, Koto-ku, Tokyo
When: January 6
Time: All Day
Take the Yurikamome Line from Shimbashi Station to Kokusai-Tenjiro Seimon Station. Tokyo Big Sight is about a 3 minute walk from the station.