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CH Japanese firemen’s coats from the 19th century

During the Edo period in Japan (1615–1868), crowded living conditions and wooden buildings gave rise to frequent fires — so frequent in fact it was said that “fires and quarrels were the flowers of Edo”. The socially segregated brigades formed to combat these fires were made up of either samurais (buke hikeshi) or commoners (machi hikeshi), but whatever their class their methods were the same: they would destroy the buildings surrounding the fire in an effort to contain it. Although experiments with wooden pumps were made, limited water supply rendered this more modern firefighting method impractical.

Each firefighter in a given brigade was outfitted with a special reversible coat (hikeshi banten), plain but for the name of the brigade on one side and decorated with richly symbolic imagery on the other. Made of several layers of quilted cotton fabric, using a process called the sashiko technique, and resist-dyed using the tsutsugaki method, these coats would be worn plain-side out and thoroughly soaked in water before the firefighters entered the scene of the blaze. No doubt the men wore them this way round to protect the dyed images from damage, but they were probably also concerned with protecting themselves, as they went about their dangerous work, through direct contact with the heroes and creatures represented on the insides of these beautiful garments.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a depiction of the Toad Spirit who taught a robber magic, as long as he promised to use it only for the good of humanity — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (late 19th or early 20th century) decorated with the wizard Jiraiya turning into a giant toad — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a scene famous from prints and Kabuki plays: the samurai Sato Tadanobu, ambushed by enemies while playing the game Go, is unable to reach his weapons so defends himself with the game’s heavy wooden table, scattering the black and white stone game pieces — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (mid 19th century) decorated with the image of Rōrihakucho Chō Jun (Zhang Shun), whose fearlessness and courage was popular in 19th-century Japan — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Possible fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with an outdoor autumnal scene featuring maple leaves, curtains and the taiko drum used for performances of court dance (Bugaku). The garment resembles the coats of firemen of the city of Edo, but it lacks insignia of any kind and thus cannot be identified for sure as a fireman’s jacket — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a scene depicting the hero Musashibo Benkei’s fight with an evil carp — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (1878–82) decorated with a bird and tree motif — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a winter snow scene depicting the Momoyama Period hero Kato Kiyomasa and a playful tiger absconding with his helmet — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a scene depicting a young warrior confronting the sprirt of fire — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with various figures — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a tiger and dragon motif — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a dragon motif — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a dragon and wave motif — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with interlocking circles, Chinese characters (Kanji) and ginkgo leaves — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (late 19th century) made of leather and decorated with the company’s insignia on the back in white, a geometric pattern composed of stylized ideograms around the bottom, and the company’s name on the lapels — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a dragon and wave motif, front and back view — Source.

Japanese Fireman coat

Fireman’s coat (19th century) decorated with a warrior battling a dragon, front and back view — Source.

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