I had the opportunity yesterday to watch the local Volunteer Fire Service in operation.
Around 2pm I heard the sound of a siren coming into the village. And then another. Every house in the village has a loudspeaker connected to the Town Hall, and if mine wasnt disconnected I would have heard the emergency message that there was a fire.
The noise of the sirens was enough to draw me out of the house and I saw smoke and flames billowing from the end apartment of a small 4 apartment block.
Most firefighters in Japan are volunteers. There are a million of them compared to 100,000 full-time professional firefighters.
Our village's fire station is a small garage-sized concrete building that holds a couple of pumps and a few hoses. The trucks must come from neighboring towns.
The firefighters have almost no equipment other than pumps and hoses. No protective gear, not even helmets, no breathing gear, and little in the way of emergency tools.
The fire was put out fairly quickly, and no-one was hurt, but I shudder to think what would have happened if it had been more complicated.
Employees of Town Halls are expected to "volunteer", even the young office ladies, but they do not fight fires. Making tea for the men, and joining in the marching and parades is the limit of their duties.
The current volunteer fire service was created during the Second World War, and is woefully inadequate for anything other than a simple fire, as was shown in the aftermath of the Hanshin Earthquake.
But, they, and the others in the village who pitched in, did a good job putting this fire out effeciently.
Japan Shimane fire volunteer fire service