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Goin’ Japanesque!

Dezome-shiki: A New Year’s Ceremony with Edo-era Roots

Yes, it’s as festive an event as you’d expect any matsuri (Japanese festival) to be, but there’s more to dezome-shiki than that. Unlike your standard festivals, dezome-shiki are put on by groups of firefighters and scaffold workers, so let’s take a closer look at this traditional festivity. Ref: i北陸


What are Dezome-shiki?



The word, which literally means “ceremony of the year’s first excursion,” describes a traditional event of the Japanese New Year put on in early January by people connected to firefighting efforts. Though there is some regional variation as to the exact dates, in Tokyo dezome-shiki are usually held on January 6. These ceremonies represent a prayer for fire safety and the wellbeing of the people together with a start to regular duties for the year.


A History of Dezome-shiki

During the Edo period, most houses were wooden, so any fire could turn into a full disaster. Precursors to modern Japanese firefighters, groups of firemen called “hikeshi” were the ones who fought these blazes, and the first New Year dezome-shiki started as these groups of firefighters proactively trying to prevent the massive damages that come with fires by calling on the citizens of the city. With this as a backdrop, fire fighting systems in Japan gradually came to take form.


Dezome-shiki Performances

After the opening parade, there are a number of different performances held, and we’ve included two of the most prominent kinds below.

1. Kiyari Songs

The word “kiyari” refers to chants used while working. For example, when workers come together to lift a heavy piece of lumber, they’ll cry out to match their timing as they lift. This kind of working chant was often used when castles and other massive structures were built.

If good timing is important for working with building materials, it’s even more so for work during emergencies and at great heights, where agility and caution are key. It’s no wonder that the hikeshi firemen of old regularly put kiyari chants to use when fighting fires. In time, these chants transformed into songs, and modern firefighters sing the kiyari songs they’ve inherited during dezome-shiki.

2. Hashigo-nori



Mount Fuji in the background,

As one of the traditional performance arts of Japan, hashigo-nori is a kind of acrobatics that uses an upright ladder of at least a few meters in height. Giving participants a chance to demonstrate the skills they’ve honed over the years, hashigo-nori nowadays has become quite popular among tourists as a kind of acrobatics show.

At the hashigo-nori event held at Tokyo’s Ikegami Honmon-ji, visitors can try their hand at it for themselves. Not only that, but surprisingly enough there’s even English guidance available for the experience, making it a rare learning opportunity that’s well worth the trip to the temple. Ikegami Honmon-ji Information: Map

Related: New Year’s Articles

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