Nobody knows exactly how many people died during the unimaginable horrors of what is called the Great Meireki Fire, or Meireki no Taika, but it is believed that between 100,000 and 200,000 perished.
It started all with the death of three teenage girls and a kimono. This long-sleeved kimono was given to a girl. Before she had a chance to wear it, she died. After that the kimono was given to the second girl, who dies as well before she could wear it. The third girl met with the same fate. The blame was squarely put on this kimono. Therefore a priest was consulted and it was determined that the curse could be alleviated by burning it. It can be debated whether this was all a matter of superstition, but the following events surely resulted in a curse for thousands.
In those days all buildings in Edo were constructed with wood, paper, and their thatched roofs were made of straw. Since Edo had grown beyond all known proportions from a small fishing village to a mega city in about half a century, buildings had been constructed close to each other, making Edo a maze of narrow alleys and a monstrous firetrap.
The priest in the Hongo Ward began to cremate this cursed piece of clothing. It was the 18th day of the third year of the Meireki Era (2 March, 1657) strong winds were blowing. The burning kimono was picked-up and landed on a nearby roof, likely that of a temple.
The circumstances were excellent for a fire. The year before had been very dry, with little or no rain. When the fire started gale force winds were blowing from the northwest, burning the bigger part of the southeastern part of the city with deadly speed. The fire spread so fast that ten thousands of people perished before they could even be warned. The gHisekih (fire brigade) did not stand a chance.
The winds blew for two days, then turned and started blowing from the south, pushing the fire back to Edo Castle in the center of the city. The buildings where the retainers of the Shogun lived were destroyed. The buildings in the middle of the castle were saved, but the surrounding buildings where servants lived burned to the ground.
After three days it was all over. The winds died and so did the fire, but the thick smoke made it impossible to enter the city. Six days after the fire started monks and other survivors could finally transport the remains down the Sumida River to Honjo for mass burial. The Eko-in temple was built on the site to commemorate the victims of one of the greatest disasters in Japanfs history.
As soon as it was possible the name of the emperor was changed to "Manji", in order to disassociate him from the most catastrophic part in Japanese history.