Fascinating original woodblock print made in 1878 by the artist Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周) and depicting a firefighter of Tokyo at the dezomeshiki (出初式), or the traditional New Year’s parade on the occasion of which the firemen performed acrobatic demonstrations on top of bamboo ladders, like the one visible in the upper part of the work. The man, here played by the actor Ichikawa Danjuro (市川團十郎), holds with his right arm a matoi (纏), a sort of standard that had the function both of identifying the brigades and, placed on a roof, of signaling the fire inside or near a building. At the bottom of the print, a little girl is holding her mother’s hand.
Tokyo firemen, a very popular subject among ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artists, were seen by common people with a mixture of admiration and fear. Because of the importance of their task, they were surrounded by an aura of providentiality and, therefore, of impunity. They were often rough men and many citizens even thought they were more dangerous than the fires they were supposed to extinguish.
The work, left panel of a triptych printed by the publisher Asano Eizo (浅野栄蔵) and entitled “Modern Dezomeshiki, the Phase of the Great Change of the Chrysanthemum” (開化出初豊遷菊相), despite the right signs of aging is in good condition.