Family Fun: Fire Museum (Tokyo)

Fire trucks hold a fascination for certain segments of the population – mainly little boys and spotted Dalmations. My offspring had never shown much interest in them when she was younger, so I was a bit nervous when I suggested a summer excursion for my daughter and her (female) friend to check out the Fire Museum in Tokyo’s Yotsuya neighborhood.

For those who do love their fire trucks, the bottom floor of the museum (easily accessed immediately from the Yotsuya-Sanchome metro station) is filled with them. Old models, shiny models, historically important models … and even one small kid-size model for photo purposes, since the ones on display can’t be explored up close.

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From the basement, it’s worth taking the elevator near the check-in desk up to the 5th floor. Don’t bother with floors 6 or 7; there’s not much there unless you need a padded space for a baby to crawl or are attending a class or conference on-site.

Floor 5 details the history of fire fighting in Edo (the name of Tokyo before 1869). It’s interesting to note that no water was used in the 1600s and 1700s. The preferred method of saving the city was “destructive firefighting”, where buildings were strategically pulled down to prevent the spread of the fire. Fire fighters worked in separate, competitive brigades, often vying for favor from the shogun. Their colorful and unique standards are on display at the museum – one of the more interesting things for kids on this floor.

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Fire standards – called matoi – in the Edo history section

If your little ones still have patience, take a quick stroll around floor 4 to see how firefighting equipment and methods changed during the Meiji Period and into the modern day. From horse-drawn carts to water cannons, the city’s fire fighting ability improved, but it still wasn’t enough to stop the disasters of 1923 (earthquake, followed by fire) and 1945 (air raids).

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Floor 4

Floor 3 is where your kids will start to realize that this trip to the fire museum was truly worth it. Begin with the part-model, part-cartoon on how fire fighters respond to an emergency as soon as you arrive on floor 3. From there, the littlest visitors might enjoy dress-up and photo time in the far corner, while older kids will adore the fire fighting simulation (drive the fire truck AND aim the water hose). Kids can also pretend to fly a chopper, or simply be a passenger; try to direct an electronic fire truck to reach a fire before time runs out; and participate in a number of fire-prevention quizzes (Japanese only).

Enjoying the costumes
The water cannon simulator

While my daughter and her friend practically ran through floors 5 and 4, we spent at least an hour and a half on floor 3. Allow time – especially on weekends – to wait for the fire fighting simulation (though no one minds if parents wait in line for their kids).

There are some big plusses to a visit to the Fire Museum. One, it’s free! When you check in with staff, you’ll receive a lanyard to wear and a brochure. The lanyard functions as your tcicket; simply return it when you leave the museum. Location is another huge bonus. The museum is practically attached to the Yotsuya San-chome metro station (Exit 2) and is also a short walk from the Tokyo Toy Museum. Both are a great combination on a rainy day or a hot summer day.


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