The Fight of the Megumi Fire Brigade


Megumi no Kenka – Kami no Megumi Wago no Torikumi

Kabuki Plus

by Komiya Akiko

Local firefighters


A local firefighter system in Edo was created in the mid Edo Period. Forty-eight groups, named after the letters of the Japanese alphabet, were designated to cover the entire city. The Megumi (Me group) was in charge of Tokyo’s current Shiba area. When the members came to work, they would pour water over themselves and carry a lantern with the team’s name, led by the team chief. They formed a line carrying ladders, hand-press pumps and other tools. Considered the ultimate in Edo cool, they were taken up in Kabuki dramas and represented a dream profession for young people. A famous comic rakugo narrative, “The Fireman’s Son”, portrays a young shop owner’s son who wants to become a fireman. In addition to the local brigades, there were special firefighter groups to protect samurai households as well as official firemen.

Sumo wrestlers

Sumo tournaments since the mid Edo Period were held once each in spring and winter for ten days. Wrestlers were thus known as men who could live for a year on 20 days work. Tournaments now last for 15 days and are held six times a year, totaling 90 matches or one match every four days. Wrestlers patronized by daimyo (lords of the realm) received a regular salary and were regarded as samurai rank. When a samurai in the play says that wrestlers are superior to firefighters, it rankles Tatsugoro.

Edo’s population

The first census of Edo’s population was carried out toward the end of 1718. The survey found a total population of 535,000 townspeople, consisting of 390,000 men and 145,000 women – that is, the number of women was less than half the male population, making it a very male-oriented society. With the addition of vassals stationed in Edo by daimyo nationwide, men represented an overwhelming majority of the city. This prompted the government to create authorized courtesan quarters in Yoshiwara.


Semi-authorized pleasure quarters. Yoshiwara was Edo’s only official pleasure district, but there were also pleasure quarters known as okabasho located at the entrances of the five official roads from Edo: Shinagawa (Tokaido), Senju (Nikko Kaido, Oshu Kaido), Itabashi (Nakasendo) and Naito Shinjuku (Koshu Kaido). The Shimazaki Inn frequented by characters in this play was one of the largest of the okabasho.

Kikugoro V


The first to play Tatsugoro was Onoe Kikugoro V. This was a perfect role for the actor, whose handsome looks led him to specialize in domestic-affairs dramas. He was known for thinking carefully about his characters, and the tools used in the Tatsugoro scenes were based on interviews with former members of the actual Megumi troupe. Kikugoro was apparently attracted by fires as a child, putting on an embroidered fireman’s coat whenever he heard the fire alarm to show his bravery. We can therefore assume he was particular about the costumes as well.