New Year Fireman’s Parade: Ladder-top Acrobatics
Every year at the beginning of January, fire brigades and other emergency services all over Japan hold a dezomeshiki, or first call- out festival. Alongside parades of fire engines and firefighting demonstrations by elite units, firemen clad in traditional costumes perform amazing stunts at the top of ladders and poles in hashigo-nori, or ladder climbing, one of Japan’s historic performing arts.
Some 400 years ago, most firefighting in the Edo period consisted not of discharging water to extinguish a fire but of tearing down houses in the close vicinity to prevent the fire from spreading. Firefighting units would include tobi, or steeplejacks, who would climb tall ladders or poles to try and determine where the fire had broken out.
Today, this hashigo-nori performance, which conveys the zeal and fighting spirit of firefighting units in the days of the Edo period, is performed by members of the local fire brigade and local steeplejack association.