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80115-0046 - Japanese New Year Celebrations

Kobe, 1906
New Year Celebrations 22

Artist Kozaburo Tamamura
Publisher Kozaburo Tamamura
Medium Collotype Print
Period Meiji
Location Kobe
Image No. 80115-0046
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Firefighters in happi coats perform acrobatic stunts on top of bamboo ladders. The ladder stunts were the main event of Japanese New Year celebrations.

The demonstrations, called dezome-shiki, were intended to warn people of the dangers of fire, and to demonstrate the agility and courage of the firefighters.

The old way to fight fires was to tear down surrounding houses, so ladders were needed to climb on roofs. Because of the climbing involved, especially scaffolding workers served as firemen. They had incredible strength and stamina because of having to build scaffolds on a daily basis. The demonstration was preceded with the firemen praying at a shrine for their safety during the coming year. Dezome-shiki are still held at many towns today.

In the back of the photo, Hyogo Kencho can be seen, making it possible to actually locate the place where this event took place.

This image is part of The New Year in Japan, a book published by Kobe-based photographer Kozaburo Tamamura in 1906. Original text:1:

On the fourth day the fire brigades give practical illustrations of their capabilities. Engines are screaming along the street; ladders are lashed together in a moment or two, held high in the air, and then the younger members imitate the moneky family by rushing up to dizzy heights, and in no hurry to come down—a well-known habit of the real “Jacko.” The men are given presents of money, and are regaled with wine, and then they get home just in time to prevent “accidents.”

British Pathé has a 1925 (Taisho 14) video clip of Hiroshima firefighters showing their acrobatics. You can’t help but become deeply impressed:

See all New Year images on Old Photos of Japan.

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1 Tamamura, Kozaburo (1906). The New Year in Japan. Tamamura Shashinkan.


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Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). Kobe, 1906: New Year Celebrations 22, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on October 1, 2022 (GMT) from

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