Volunteer firefighters at a Shinto shrine
Posted by ampontan on Friday, January 25, 2008
SOMETIMES, A FIREFIGHTER JUST ISN’T AROUND when you need one.
The folks at the Dazaifu Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka, hope they never need to call the fire department. The main sanctuary has been designated an important national cultural treasure. The shrine is also the repository of many documents, art, and crafts dating from the Heian period to the Edo period (which covers 1100 years).
That’s why every year around 26 January, the shrine priests and miko, or shrine maidens (roughly equivalent to altar boys at a Catholic church) hold fire drills on the Fire Protection for Cultural Properties Day.
As you can see from the photo, when they have a fire drill, they take it seriously! The miko attached the hoses to the hydrants themselves and started squirting. As Matsuo Risa, one of the miko, said, “We want to respond quickly if there’s an emergency.”
The original of this shrine dates back to 919, when it was built at the imperial command in dedication to the spirit of Sugawara no Michizane. (Read more about him from a previous post here.) He became the patron of calligraphy and scholarship, and to this day students preparing for entrance examinations make a pilgrimage here to pray for success in their tests. The present building was constructed in 1591.
It’s a good thing they don’t have any of my old examination papers among those documents they have stored. I’d be tempted to let them burn!