Despite being very few in number, some foreign-born firefighters are employed in Japan, but their nationality is proving a conundrum due to opaque restrictions placed on what duties non-Japanese public servants can carry out.

The ambiguous rules have left some of these firefighters and the local governments that hired them — some in depopulated rural areas — confused about how their much-needed abilities can be utilized.

A nationwide tally compiled by the Internal Affairs Ministry's Fire and Disaster Management Agency showed that there were 479 foreign fire brigade members working in Japan in 2023, a jump from the 269 on the job in 2020 when the agency first collected data. Municipality-specific data is not disclosed.