A fire broke out the other day in southside Asagaya. Southside Asagaya is an “entertainment” area—a warren of narrow alleys and streets with bars, restaurants, snack pubs, dry cleaners, ramen shops, a chanko restaurant, green grocers, several joints serving French, and a funky little blues club called Chicago, where Naomi-san, the master, worships at the altar of Guitar Slim and serves Red Eye beer, tomato juice and beer, for 500 yen the glass.
Sirens wailed and a small fire truck made especially for such narrow streets rounded the corner quickly followed by another. They moved through the crowded streets about as fast as I could walk, so I followed—past the snazzy Snack Yuu, past the Sen Sen Record emporium, until Snack Kurumi, where from the other direction, two more engines had pulled up and parked along with an ambulance.
Several policemen had already arrived on their bicycles. The man from the dry cleaners stepped out of his tiny shop to take a look. Curious pedestrians started to mill about. The firemen started to congregate in front of a snack bar called “Pub Pollen.” A small wire-strengthened kitchen window of the snack bar had been shattered and thin wisps of smoke were leaking out.
Now over two dozen firemen in full gear—helmets, hoods, and oxygen tanks—had crowded into the narrow alley in front of the shop. A large flat hose was unrolled. Coils of rope were made ready. One fireman with a megaphone started speaking to another fireman a meter away, realized the loudspeaker was not necessary, and put it back into the truck. Another fireman stood with a long pick ax. The police tried to keep the onlookers back.
Nothing much seemed to be happening. The firemen spoke excitedly to each other. More wispy smoke, as from a cigarette, slipped out the jagged hole in the window. After a few minutes of walkie-talkie chatter, the hose was rolled back up and stowed. The firemen began loading up their trucks.
At that moment the elderly mama-san, a bent-backed woman wearing athletic pants, a flower print blouse, and a brown knit sweater vest came out, bowed and apologized to the police and the fire department. Evidently, it was literally a flash in the pan that had flared up while heating some oil for fried rice. The window was broken to let out the smoke. The woman apologized several times then hurriedly went upstairs to apologize to those neighbors.
The efficiency of the Tokyo Fire Department was noteworthy. They had arrived within minutes of the emergency call. Fire has always been Tokyo’s number one enemy, followed closely by real estate agents.
Soon the fire trucks left, southside Asagaya went back to minding its own business. The next day a new window glass had been fitted and snack bar Pub Pollen was back in operation.