Did you know that the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 destroyed 60-70% of the capital city of Edo, now known as Tokyo? According to legend, the fire was accidentally started in a temple ceremony. Strong winds pushed the flames out of control and caused the wooden temple to ignite. Most of the buildings in Edo were made of paper and wood and built very close to each other, so the fire spread rapidly and lasted for 3 days. It took two years to rebuild Edo. The shogun reorganized the city and widened the roads so future fires could not spread so easily.
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This disaster is also known as the Furisode Fire. An estimated 100,000 people perished in the fire; the population of Edo at the time was 300,000.
On the first day of the fire, hurricane-force blew from the northwest. Edo had an established fire brigade, but they did not have the resources needed to fight a fire of this magnitude. On the second day, the winds changed direction and the fire was pushed back towards the city center. On the third day, the winds finally died down and the flames eventually subsided. The remaining smoke permeated the city for several days. It was thick enough to hamper movement and the recovery of bodies or aid to survivors.
Another compounding factor for the fire was an ongoing drought. The buildings and plant matter were very dry, which helped the fire to spread easily.
Since many of the fire’s victims did not have any living relatives left, the temple of Honjo Eko-in was built by the shogun to commemorate those who perished in the fire.
The main keep of Edo castle was saved, but the surrounding buildings were destroyed. During the reconstruction and reorganization of the city, commoners and samurai were granted funds from the government to rebuild. Restoration work for Edo Castle was left for last. Greater spaces and wider roads were included in the new city. Before the fire, the city had an 8km radius; afterwards it had an approximate radius of 16km.