Monday, November 26, 2007

Beware of Fire/Hi no Youjin

I've seen probably a half dozen house fires in my life. The absolute worst ones though were here in Japan. Japan has an interesting relationship with fire. At the drop of the hat people will set something ablaze:, mountains, good luck objects, even people. And yet things regularly get out of hand and burn down. So we're told to be careful.

Houses are light weight, wood and paper mostly. They are built very close together. I personally don't know anyone who owns a smoke detector -- although last year it became the law, I still don't know anyone who has installed one yet. To make matter more dangerious, it isn't strange to find open flames in a home even today. There is a family altar that has candles and incense burning as well as the stinky kerosine heaters popular in the winter. While we don't have an altar we have used the kerosine heaters for years. They always make me nervous.

So one night I stood a couple blocks away from a real inferno quite near our old home. The lady next to me said to watch the sparks because very often they fly over several houses, blocks even, and start working on a new place just when the fire department has gone home. I sprayed my house with a hose when I got home.

So winter is here. But before that even, when autumn arrives and the air cools down and dries out there is something in Japan called 'hi no youjin' or 'beware of fire'. The first time I heard it I freaked out considerably.

Nightly someone from the neighborhood group is assigned the duty to go out alone or in pairs with these:
(they costs nearly ninety bucks, btw)

They're made of wood and make the most clear and loud clacking sound when struck together. The person on duty will walk up and down the streets calling out "hi no youjin!" CLACK! "Hi no youjin!" CLACK! Up and down the cold, dry, very dark streets.

It is most surreal actually.

My understanding is that people after hearing the warning are then careful of fires in their home. I found this old commerical on Youtube. You can hear the distinctive CLACK! CLACK!

I suppose, though, it's not unlike the "Even you can prevent forest fires" commercial when I was a child. Although much more upbeat. And with monkeys.


Bk30 said...

lol, but that clap is very clear. I want a pair for when I'm trying to be heard over the kids!

Matt D said...

I think the most amazing part of this isn't the fire angle, but the fact you can still get people in your neighborhoods to participate in stuff like this. If someone in my neighborhood tried walking down the street at night yelling out and clanking one of those, the odds he would get shot are pretty high.

Kappa no He said...

BK: Now there is an idea! I may just do that, and if they don't listen I can always use them for bopping upside the head.

Matt: And this is very low on the annoying meter. When the politicians come out in their trucks with their loud speakers begging votes and screaming their speeches even I start forging weapons from kitchen utensils.

Anonymous said...

Haven't written for a while, but I'm still reading you. Not much going on here in DC. Quiet Turkey Day (actually it was Peking Duck Day here this year since we didn't have any poor students over this year), and finals are in just a few weeks.

Kappa no He said...

I've been missing you, was just about to send a nice long e-mail to see what was up. I'm debating having a big Christmas bash or not. Believe it or not we can usually find turkeys these days at most supermarkets. Now I just need a half dozen extra chairs.

MDK said...

Ah, I love the commercial. And that clap, it certainly is distinct.

The whole scenario makes me think of Paul Revere. I know, how lame I am. And my name is not Sam I Am.

Virginia Lee said...

Gad. Fire is one thing that absolutely terrifies me. One thing I HATED in Mississippi was that they allowed fireworks to be shot off by any dang fool and we had eejit neighbors who'd get drunk and start setting off bottle rockets and so on when we were in the middle of a drought and fires were prohibited due to the level of danger. I must have call the sheriff's office at least six times one year.

Gad, woman! Earthquakes. Fires. What's next?!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! ! !

Kappa no He said...

MDK: Ha ha, not lame at all!

Virginia: We have tsunamis too.