Great Meireki Fire

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  • Date: 1657/1/18-20
  • Other Names: 振袖の火事 (furisode no kaji)
  • Japanese: 明暦の大火 (Meireki no taika)

The Great Meireki Fire was one of the great disasters of early modern Edo. Spreading across the city in 1657, it destroyed some 60% of the city, including dozens of daimyô mansions, and much of Edo castle, and killed some 100,000 people. The fire is said to mark numerous notable shifts in shogunate policy, and in the development of the city.

The shogunate, now mature after fifty years of rule, took the widespread destruction caused by the fire as an opportunity to implement more strategic, organized, efforts at urban planning. Many daimyô were granted land to rebuild their mansions in different parts of the city. Kabuki and other licensed theaters were restricted to a designated theater district. The city was expanded, creating new districts for townsmen to live and work. And systems and networks of firefighters were put into place, where previously the shogunate and the various daimyô each managed the defense of their own properties against fire, and the townspeople were left to their own devices.

The tenshu (main tower keep) of Edo castle, the tallest ever built in Japan, was among the notable buildings lost in the fire. It was never rebuilt.[1]


Fire first broke out shortly after noon (late in the Hour of the Horse or early in the Hour of the Sheep) on 1657/1/18 at Honmyô-ji temple in the Hongô Maruyama area, in the northern portion of the city. Northwesterly winds changed to westerly winds around dusk (in the Hour of the Rooster). The fire spread south and east, destroying much of the eastern side of the city, including the Nihonbashi area, before being finally brought under control during the Hour of the Ox, after midnight.[2]

Fire broke out again prior to noon that next day (1/19, late in the Hour of the Snake, early in the Hour of the Horse) at an Ôban yorikata lodging in the Koishikawa Shintakajô-machi neighborhood, not far from the origin of the first fire. This fire spread south and east, through the shogun's castle, into the eastern portion of the city before being finally brought under control around dusk (in the Hour of the Rooster), shortly after another fire broke out in the Kôjimachi 5-chôme neighborhood, to the west of the castle. As northwesterly winds shifted to westerly winds, this third fire raged until mid-morning the following day (1/20), burning through much of the southern portion of the city, before being finally brought under control.[2]


  • Katô Takashi, "Governing Edo," in James McClain (ed.), Edo & Paris, Cornell University Press (1994), 43, 63.
  1. Christine Guth, Art of Edo Japan, Yale University Press (1996), 92.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gallery labels, Edo-Tokyo Museum.[1]