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Disaster Mitigation of Urban Cultural Heritage

 News Letter No.2 (March 2004)


The modern disaster prevention systems and the Iwakura mission

College of letters, Ritsumeikan University     Yuukou YAMAZAKI
(Associate Professor, Department of History)

      When researching the disaster prevention system of Japan from a historical viewpoint, we realize that Meiji Restoration is a big turning point. For instance, a dramatic change of the urban disaster prevention to a fire is shown at this time. In the Edo period, the existence of so-called Machibikeshi such as Megumi, that is familiar in Jidaigeki (period play), is known well. Also there are several other systems like Daimyohikeshi that are really feudalistic systems in which each system has each jurisdiction over each town delimited according to each social position. As for technique, in order to prevent catching fire from other burning buildings, open spaces are made by destroying the houses surrounding on the fire ground. In this way, the disaster prevention system in the Edo period lacked the powerful authority that integrated the system itself and used the technique corresponding to each situation (*1).

      However, from the birth of the new Meiji era government, the disaster prevention system modernizes rapidly. First, the fire fighting system that has jurisdiction over the whole area in the city is put in the police authority power and the command instruction to people comes to be done firmly. And it comes to be going to begin to link with the problem of the city planning such as reorganization of weak residential areas to a fire and the maintenance of water service over the whole area of the city. In addition, a lot of modern fire apparatuses such as pumps are introduced, and it changes into the way that does fire fighting directly to the place where a fire started. Then, why was such a change brought? As a matter of fact, the researches with such an aspect have been neglected most in the field of history. While the ones that introduction of modern fire fighting system was researched from the viewpoint of history of systems exist, the ones that the transformation of disaster prevention consciousness and disaster prevention thought that exist in the background of the change was studied have been extremely few.

      This time, in taking up the problem of urban disaster by the COE program, the principal object of the researches on us who take charge of the field of history is to examine the birth of such a modern disaster prevention system deeply. What kinds of disaster prevention systems did the modern period invent? How have disaster prevention thought and disaster prevention consciousness that are background from which disaster prevention system is invented been formed and constructed? How did it infiltrate the leader layer and the people in Kyoto?

      Afterwards, what influence has it given to the city planning of Kyoto? We would like to clarify these through this research. And now, in this 21st century, we think that it is our one obligation to construct a big plan of 100 years for the future. We think that we drastically need to re-examine the merits and demerits of the disaster prevention system and disaster prevention thought that have been invented in accumulation of history and we should not see natural "common knowledge" and tacit "consent" as taboo and should enter there boldly.

      Well, though introductory remarks has become long, now we are advancing the research of the encounter of Japan and the modern disaster prevention system by paying attention to the existence of Iwakura Mission. One of the purposes of this mission that made a round of calls to the main nations of Europe and America from Meiji 4 (1871) to Meiji 6 (1873) was to learn the excellent technology and thought of the West, and to tell the truth this mission is greatly related with the problem of the urban disaster prevention while travelling around the American continent. The mission that visited Chicago in Meiji 5 (1872) did witness the tragedy of the conflagration that hit Chicago immediately before that. Collapse of a lot of buildings and spectacles of burnt-out areas surprised the mission and 5,000 dollars were contributed from ambassador Iwakura to the city (*2). At first the mission seems to have thought that such a problem did not occur if the city was covered by buildings of stone and brick, but they learnt that even a modern city like Chicago was annihilated due to a fire. Afterwards, they were interested in the disaster prevention system of the United States, and were doing a detailed observation. They devoted themselves to modern fire fighting technology including pumps, and moreover they were surprised very much because a fire station took the big initiative from the control of residents to the decision of city planning. How was this experience connected with the disaster prevention system of Japan afterwards? How did it change the cityscape of Kyoto? Don't miss the researches in the future!

(*1) Refer to Jyun SUZUKI "Machibikeshi no kindai" (Yoshikawakobunkan, Rekishi Bunka Library). At the fourth regular meeting of the Kyoto History Disaster Society (Ritsumeikan University on March 18), the author, Jyun Suzuki (associate professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, Faculty of Letter, University of Tokyo) was invited as a lecturer and the appearance of the modern disaster prevention system was lectured.

(*2) About the Iwakura mission research, there is "Beio Kairan Jikki" written by Kunitake KUME, in which the records of the mission are described in detail. Also as there are books of reminiscences and a lot of letters by the author, so we can have considerably detailed records. From the newspapers at that time which have been kept in the public library of NY, various movements of the mission that were not known in the above-mentioned historical materials can be chased and they are interesting.

Public library of NY city, U.S.A.