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.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Belongs to the Dog

Japanese are perceptive. Super perceptive, in fact. For example, they can tell you if you've lost or gained a kilo even before you know it yourself. Not to mention tell you exactly what you wore on a certain date, how your hairstyle has changed over the past ten years, if you happen to have some rice stuck on your shirt, how many grains. I'm trying to learn this technique. I don't think I'm succeeding very well.

I had a traumatic experience once with laundry. We lived in a different house then. I was young and wild and I hung out my jeans with the holes in the knees to dry. An hour or so later several old women came to my door to explain that it was embarrassing and I should take them down right away. We've moved and ironically enough I miss those noisey old grannies. But they certainly left an impression on me.

Let me introduce you to the culprit in this story:

Today was doggy blanket laundry day. I usually wash them and dry them on this side of the fence so people can't see the damage he's done to his most beloved Blankies. You see Cha likes to gather them into a big lump so he can straddle them, suck on a carefully picked out piece while whining and massaging. He misses his mommy. What happens is that he sometimes ends up tearing a chunk out of the blanket. He enthusiastically misses his mommy.

" Ma ma~!"

So I put a the load in and then went to the store. By the time I returned home M had hung the blankies outside. However, he hung them upstairs over the veranda where anyone passing by could see them. I couldn't complain, right? Because he DID try and help. But they are really in bad shape.

I thanked him very much before I slipped into the other room and made a sign that I clothespinned to one of the holes. Here is a picture taken from above. It basically explains that these blankets are used by the dog. You know just in case the doorbell rings later today and I answer it to find out the neighbors have taken up a collection to buy us poor folk new blankies.