Great Kyoto Fire of the Tenmei Era (天明の京都大火)

Great Kyoto Fire of the Tenmei Era was a fire that broke out in Kyoto on March 7, 1788. It is also known as Donguri Yake after the place in which the fire started. It was the largest fire to break out in Kyoto during the early modern period and the serious damage caused including the destruction of the Imperial Palace and Nijo-jo Castle shocked the community at the time. It is for this reason that references to simply the 'Temmei no Taika' (The Great Fire of the Temmei Era) often refer to this fire. This fire is regarded as one of the "Three Great Fires of Kyoto" (early modern period) along with those of the Hoei and Genji eras (Dondon-yake and the fire of the Kinmon Incident).

In the early dawn of March 7 (January 30 in old lunar calendar which is a day called Shogatsu Misoka at the time), a fire broke out at an unoccupied house in Donguri no Zushi in Miyagawa Town on the eastern side of Kamo-gawa River (in the vicinity of modern-day Miyagawasuji, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City) and was carried south by strong winds to Gojo-dori Street while sparks also spread to Teramachi-dori Street on the opposite side of Kamo-gawa river and throughout central Kyoto. On that evening, the inner citadel of Nijo Castle went up in flames before the fire spread to the Imperial Palace in the northern part of central Kyoto. The fire finally died out in the early dawn of February 2 - two days after it began.

The fire spread to Kawaramachi, Kiyamachi and Yamatooji-dori Street in the east; Kamigoryo-jinja Shrine, Kuramaguchi-dori Street and Imamiya otabisho in the north; Chiekoin-dori Street, Omiya-dori Street and Senbon-dori Street in the west; and both Higashi Hongan-ji Temple and Nishi Hongan-ji Temple and Rokujo-dori Street in the south. Not only the Imperial Palace and Nijo-jo Castle, but Sento Imperial Palace and the residences of the Kyoto Shoshidai (governor), the Kyoto machi-bugyo (town magistrate) and Sekkan-ke (families which produced regents) were also destroyed in the fire. According to the records of the Furukubo family who served as the Kyoto chodai (town officials who assist government officials called Machi Doshiyori or Machi Nanushi in the Edo Period), the fire ravaged an area of 1,424 towns and destroyed 36,797 houses (equivalent to 65,340 families), 201 Buddhist temples and 37 shrines. There are theories that put the death toll at 150 or 1,800.

Thus fire shocked the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) which promptly dispatched senior councillor Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA to Kyoto to consult with the Imperial Court on how to handle the situation. "Daidairizukosho" (a historical investigation imperial palace images) was completed by Kozen URAMATSU soon after the incident and it was intended to rebuild the Imperial Palace according to its original appearance based on the study of this document but the drawing of public activity to the activity of the Imperial Court at this time became the underlying cause of disputes such as the Songo Incident.

[Original Japanese]