Fire Museum

Traveling with a toddler is an entirely different experience from traveling alone or with adults only, we have learned. (For instance, since Aardvark came along, we have now visited public libraries all over the US – every trip we make tends to involve at least one trip to the local public library to check out books, participate in story time, or just escape extreme weather in somewhere somewhat kid-friendly. Sometimes it has its benefits: for instance, we went to three different public libraries in Palm Springs last February, and they had some seriously cool libraries. And we LOVE story time at the Chapel Hill, NC public library. Interestingly, story time at one of the NJ libraries we visited does not involve any stories whatsoever?)

Even with a rock star trooper like Aardvark, able to keep up with us for 5-6 miles/day on her own, there are more potty and snack breaks and the need to find wide open spaces for running around when boredom/antsy-ness strikes, so travel moves at a slower pace. And anytime Don and I get to explore after dark – even if it’s only 7pm – feels scandalously decadent nowadays.

It also means visiting places like the Fire Museum in Yotsuyasan-chome, where we went this rainy weekend. We never would have gone somewhere like this pre-kids, but it was actually really interesting, fun, and a fantastic free indoor activity for kids.

Helicopters, motorcycles, horse-drawn fire carriages, massive fire trucks with several-story ladders: this museum had all the vehicles to make a toddler’s day!

This fighter is motion sensitive and swivels his head to look at you when you sit next to him in the fire truck. Aardvark was terrified and refused to sit long enough for a photo, and fair enough! It is super creepy.

Hello Kitty gets in on the action, too. She is fierce as a fire fighter!



In addition to fun exhibits the kids could play on, and safety exhibits from which the kids could learn about fire- and other hazards (earthquakes, child-safety at home, etc.) – and fun cartoons (Aardvark spent a half hour watching an old-school Donald Duck movie that featured Donald and his nephews involved in several fires, and a half-pint sized Donald fire-fighter-evil-fairy thing who seemed to scupper all attempts to put out fires? I have no idea what was happening because the whole thing was in Japanese, which also means Aardvark had no idea, but she insisted on staying seated for the whole episode, giggling away at it. I blame you, Uncle Liam!)

But it also had a few floors devoted to the history of fire-fighting in Tokyo/Japan, which was actually pretty interesting.

During the Edo era (1600-1868; Edo is now Tokyo) had been devastated time and time again by ravaging fires, so during the Tokugawa Shogunate, the very first fire brigades were started: samurai would formed into fire fighting brigades that would respond to fires.


Initially, they wore their samurai outfits – but can you imagine how heavy the helmets were? Eventually, these became the helmets – lighter than samurai, but still looking pretty darn heavy.


Here is an outfit for a fire fighting samurai.

I put these pictures of a (reproduction of) a 17th c. painting of fire fighters rushing to the scene in for my sister: look at them close up! I swear they have tattoos on their arms and legs!


Here are replicas of some of the standards the fire fighters would carry. Each brigade had its own standard, with symbols from the various samurai clan crests, and often included messages (like, “We come to fight your fires!”, etc.) They are still used today – in fact, just a few days before coming to the museum, we were at a parade for “Japan Night” in Nihonbashi and saw a fire brigade being celebrated, drumming and dancing with their standard while being cheered by the crowd.

Luckily, today’s fire fighting methods have changed significantly from the Edo Period. Until the Meijji restoration from 1868, fire brigades fought fires by containing them: by tearing down the surrounding buildings. Because water sources were not readily available in the ways they are today, to prevent fires from spreading and destroying much of the town, buildings would be torn down before they could catch fire.


This is obviously the cutest little firefighter in ANY era.

We were at this exhibit on Saturday, and on Sunday, we stopped into Tokyu Hands, and they had changed their entry-floor exhibit from the antique model trains we’d seen on Friday morning to feature Edo fire fighters, as well!


But with a bit of a contemporary skater vibe?


Don’t worry, she’s bringing it!


These are designed to look like famous Japanese woodblock prints…but if you look closely, you’ll see the modern touches like sneakers, etc.




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