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Great Fire of Meireki

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Title: Great Fire of Meireki  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Edo, History of Tokyo, 1657 disasters, Arai Hakuseki, Namiyoke Inari Shrine
Collection: 1657 Disasters, 1657 in Japan, 17Th-Century Fires, Edo, Fires by Year, Fires in Japan, Urban Fires
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Great Fire of Meireki

Handscroll depicting scenes from the Great Fire of Meireki (kept at the Edo-Tokyo Museum)

The Great Fire of Meireki (明暦の大火 Meireki no taika), also known as the Furisode Fire, destroyed 60–70% of the Japanese capital city of Edo (now Tokyo) on March 2, 1657,[1] the third year of the Meireki Imperial era. The fire lasted for three days, and is estimated to have claimed over 100,000 lives.


  • History 1
    • Legend 1.1
    • Historical Account 1.2
    • Aftermath 1.3
  • In popular culture 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6



The fire was said to have been started accidentally by a priest who was cremating an allegedly cursed kimono. The kimono had been owned in succession by three teenage girls who all died before ever being able to wear it. When the garment was being burned, a large gust of wind fanned the flames causing the wooden temple to ignite.[2]

Historical Account

The fire began on the eighteenth day of the year, in Edo's Hongō district, and spread quickly through the city, due to hurricane force winds which were blowing from the northwest. Edo, like most Japanese cities and towns at the time, and like most of those in mainland East Asia, was built primarily from wood and paper. The buildings were especially dry due to a drought the previous year, and the roads and other open spaces between buildings were small and narrow, allowing the fire to spread and grow particularly quickly. (Many cities in Europe had similar problems, being built of flammable material and tightly packed; indeed, London was to burn only nine years later.) Though Edo had a designated fire brigade, the Hikeshi (火消し, "fire extinguisher"), it had been established only 21 years earlier, and was simply not large enough, experienced enough, or well-equipped enough to face such a conflagration.

On the second evening, the winds changed, and the fire was pushed from the southern edges of the city back towards its center. The homes of the shogun's closest retainers, in Kōjimachi, were destroyed as the fire made its way towards Edo castle, at the very center of the city. Ultimately, the main keep was saved, but most of the outer buildings, and all of the retainers' and servants' homes were destroyed. Finally, on the third day, the winds died down, as did the flames, but thick smoke prevented movement about the city, removal of bodies, and reconstruction, for several days further.


Historical marker for memorial to victims of Great Fire of Meireki

On the 24th day of the new year, six days after the fire began, monks and others began to transport the bodies of those killed down the Sumida River to Honjo, Sumida,_Tokyo, a community on the eastern side of the river. There, pits were dug and the bodies buried; the Ekō-in (Hall of Prayer for the Dead) was then built on the site.

Reconstruction efforts took two years, as the shogunate took the opportunity to reorganize the city according to various practical considerations. Under the guidance of 1923 Great Kantō earthquake and the 1945 bombing of Tokyo in World War II. Each of these 20th-century events, like the Meireki fire less than three centuries earlier, saw roughly 100,000 deaths, and the destruction of the majority of the city.

In popular culture

The Fire Kimono, a 2008 mystery novel by Laura Joh Rowland, was inspired by the event.

See also


  • Sansom, George (1963). A History of Japan: 1615–1867. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.


  1. ^ Blusse, Leonard & Cynthia Vaillé (2005). The Deshima Dagregisters, Volume XII 1650–1660. Leiden
  2. ^ Noêl Noue (1961). Histoire de Tokyo (Page 98)

External links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

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