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The Shocking Deaths From Shirokiya Department Store Fire


The Shocking Deaths From Shirokiya Department Store Fire

Tragedies are often remembered to make sure that it won't be repeated in the present times. There are some people who finds it hard to even accept that a certain thing in the past is for real, thus, it makes them question the authenticity of whatever occurred in the past. If you are familiar about the urban legends from Japan, you might have known already the mind-boggling urban legend about a Department Store fire that caused deaths of its female employees. Of course, disasters like fire is inevitable but what makes this urban legend popular until now is that the cause of the salesladies' deaths were due to their tradition and culture. Without a doubt, Japan is known for their heightened importance of their culture and in this urban legend, the victims of the disaster just followed their cultural belief. Here's the urban legend of "Shirokiya Department Store Fire."

The Shocking Deaths From Shirokiya Department Store Fire

Shirokiya Department Store fire (白木屋大火 Shirokiya Taika) was known to be a fire at the Shirokiya Department Store, Tokyo, Japan, on December 16, 1932 which left 14 people dead and 67 people injured. The Shirokiya Department store had eight stories that time and two underground floors. The 4th floor through 8th floor caught fire in this bizarre incident. At the time, the Shirokiya Department Store was having a year-end Christmas theme sale, and the interior was extravagantly decorated. The fire suddenly started around 9:15 am, shortly before it was to open for business, in the toy section.


A clerk witnessed an electrical spark from a light bulb on a Christmas tree. The strong spark landed on some highly flammable celluloid toys, easily ignited them, and the fire quickly spread. The open staircase provided oxygen to fuel the flames and enabled the fire to spread to other floors. The staircase became a chimney for the smoke, which cut off the main escape route. As ladder trucks and hoses could not reach the 5th floor, the fire outrageously spread and people got trapped inside and they had to find other ways to escape. Some of the saleswomen were forced to go up to the roof; from there, they jumped into safety nets held by firemen. Many attempted to escape the building using ropes made from clothing or curtains. About 80 people climbed down from the 7th floor in this manner. Others could not hang on and fell to their deaths unfortunately.


This incident made Japan re-evaluate their fashion beliefs. It is believed that this fire changed fashion customs among Japanese women, who discarded the traditional kimono since kimono-clad women did not wear panties. It was because of the news that spread that during the fire, saleswomen in kimono refused to jump from the roof into safety nets because they were ashamed to be seen from below, and as a result died. This news attracted attention from as far away as Europe. It has been alleged that in the aftermath of the fire, department store management ordered saleswomen to wear panties or other short underwear under their kimono, and the trend spread.

Contrary to this belief, Shoichi Inoue, a professor of Japanese customs and architecture has denied the story of the ambivalent women with fatal modesty. According to Inoue, most people were saved by firemen, and the story of women who preferred to die with their modesty intact was fabricated for the benefit of Westerners. The story has been prevalent in many reference books, even some published by the Fire Fighting Agency. It is generally believed in Japan that the Shirokiya Department Store fire was a WAKE-UP CALL for the change in fashion customs, specifically the trend toward wearing Western-style panties, though there is no evidence to substantiate the urban legend.
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