Last Saturday I went out with my friend to see this year’s Kyotographie Photo Exhibition. It was spread out over the inner city, so we had a lot of walking to do all day and in the evening we were both exhausted…
Anyway, on our way to one of the venues, there were lots of fire engines going in the same direction, and we noticed all of a sudden six or seven helicopters hovering over the part of the city we were heading towards. And then, we saw the smoke.
A huge sand-colored cloud of smoke blew through the streets and hung over the low buildings of Gion. Nearby Shijo street – one of the main thoroughfares – was closed for all traffic, there were at least 15 fire engines, two firemen were perched on a long ladder to get an overview, and a few others were sitting on a nearby roof as well. However, the main action happened somewhere deep inside the narrow side streets of Gion. At first we thought that one of the temples was burning, but we asked a policeman and he said that it was just a normal house.
In Japan, fires are extremely dangerous. Even nowadays, many private homes are still made of wood, and in a typical modern residential area, the houses sit next to each other almost touching wall-to-wall. One of the first new words I learnt when moving into the old guest house was “kaji”, the Japanese word for blazing fire. Especially old houses burn very quickly, often, there is no time to attempt putting it out yourself. It’s best and safest for everyone just to get out of the building, alert the neighbours and call the firefighters.
The ones of Kyoto must be especially well-trained and efficient, because when we passed by the spot on our way back less than an hour later, everything was over already. When I checked the paper later that night, it said that in total six houses were damaged, but nobody got hurt. The fire had started in a restaurant – a quite famous one to boot with three Michelin stars – when they had closed after lunch service.
Equally efficient were the media (immediately present with camera teams on nearby buildings and in the helicopters I mentioned), as well as google. When I looked for the restaurant later that night on google maps it said already “Permanently Closed”.