Friday, January 29, 2010

Fire warnings

Winter is cold and dry around here. I don't know why in the summer this country gets so humid that I look like little orphan Annie with ringlet curls and sticky skin and in the winter my finger tips and heels crack and my hair tries to go straight. Many people keep humidifiers mostly to protect against cold and influenza germs... and in the summer they put out DE-humidifiers to take the moisture out of the air!

All this dryness makes for a lot of fire hazard warnings and a fire really scares people. Traditionally houses were made of mud walls slapped up against wood and even our more modern house is mostly wood... A fire can spread very quickly through a whole neighborhood and what with everyone using kerosene stoves and drying clothes and things in the same room, there are a lot more fires than you might expect. And the many smokers... And the deep-frying for tempura...

A common practice in Japan during this season is for volunteers to go around the streets clacking wooden blocks together as they walk and in a sing-song voice to call out

"Be careful of fires~~ Check your fire spots! Be careful of fires~~"

In the cold winter nights the clacking and singing can be heard faintly going down the streets and past the windows. This isn't done as much as it used to be but when our neighborhood had a series of fires we all took turns to go out every night clacking wooden blocks and calling out warnings... I don't know how effective it is but I guess we housewives will check one more time to make sure the main gas line is turned off for the night or to tell Dad to stop smoking before he falls asleep... The wooden clacking always seems to me to be a very Japanese sound.

Another sound I heard just the other night was after fire engines had raced to a call (a false alarm, thank goodness). When the fire engines' sirens scream everyone peers out their windows or stands in the streets to see where the smoke might be. But when the fire engines return to the fire station after putting out a fire or determining that no action needs to be taken, they slowly go down the street ringing a lone bell.

"Clang-clang~~ Clang-clang~~"

This all clear sign lets everyone know that all is well and we can relax and go back to doing whatever we were up to before the excitement.

The other night after the disturbance, the fire engines made their way past my house spreading reassurance as they went.

"Clang-clang~~ Clang-clang~~"

All is well.

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