While Kinosaki Onsen is renowned for its tranquil riverside ambience and strolls, the usually calm waters of the Ootani River became lively and rippled on Friday afternoon during the Kinosaki Fire Brigade’s Dezomeshiki (New Year’s Ceremony). Every year during the beginning of January, the firefighters of Kinosaki Onsen gather for a spirited parade around town followed by a fire hose water display over the Ootani River. The bright red fire trucks passing by the narrow willow-lined streets and impressive waterworks display of the Fire Brigade’s New Year’s Ceremony provide visitors and locals alike with a majestic and unique sight that can only be experienced in Kinosaki once a year.
Dezomeshiki have been customary in Japan for many years, with records dating back to the 1600s. One day during the year 1657, a fire broke out in the city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo), resulting in an estimated 100,000 deaths. Two years after the fire, the first Dezomeshiki was held by the local governor and fire brigade in an effort to raise the spirits of residents and provide hope for the city’s future. After the first Dezomeshiki was held in Edo, towns across Japan began to adopt their own forms of Dezomeshiki, some with customs and activities unique to specific regions.
In addition to a parade around the area served by the local firefighters, various performances and sights such as releasing water from a fire hose, singing folk songs, and doing stunts on ladders are all staples of a festive Dezomeshiki.
Due to Kinosaki’s special relationship between its citizens and fire prevention efforts, the annual Dezomeshiki is a highly-anticipated event with approximately 100 firefighters participating in the parade through town.
Kinosaki’s modern-day history with fire prevention began in 1925, the year of the North Tajima Earthquake. Not only were all of Kinosaki’s buildings left in crumbling ruin, the 6.8 magnitude earthquake also struck in the late morning, a time when many households were busy cooking lunch. A fire eventually spread throughout the town, scorching the wooden ruins of Kinosaki’s buildings and resulting in over 200 deaths. After many meetings among Kinosaki’s residents, it was eventually decided that in addition to re-erecting many buildings with their original wooden structures, a handful of buildings were planned to be rebuilt with reinforced concrete for the purpose of future fire prevention. Additionally, a new law requiring that building heights not exceed three stories was born out of the desire to preserve Kinosaki’s traditional atmosphere.
The Kinosaki which visitors are welcomed to today is a product of local teamwork and resilience. The drive and dedication of Kinosaki’s citizens to rebuild their beloved hot spring town with long-lasting fire prevention measures is still celebrated today. Those who walk past Kiyamachi Street in the center of Kinosaki will come across a long geometric wall with a red and white triangular design. A well-known landmark among residents, the “Hibuse Kabe,” or “Fire Prevention Wall,” is a commemorative piece symbolizing Kinosaki Onsen’s recovery after the 1925 North Tajima Earthquake and fire.
Visitors to Kinosaki Onsen are encouraged to visit Hibuse Kabe during their walk through town.
Furthermore, those interested are also welcome to visit Kinosaki during the Fire Brigade’s Dezomeshiki, held every year in early January!