Year End Fire Watch
Music; Ambience: traditional Fire Watch ambience, Tokyo, Japan, yells through streets, clapping of wood blocks
In Tokyo, Japan, on the last two evenings of the year, groups of men will take a noisy journey through their neighborhood streets, as part of the annual year-end fire watch. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
We’re listening to the sounds of the Year End Fire Watch in the Tokyo neighborhood called Benten-cho. On the eve of the New Year, a group of volunteers patrol Benten-cho, clapping together wood blocks and shouting the warning, “Hee-no yoh-jin!” – be careful with fire!
The Fire Watch is a winter tradition that some think originated in Japan’s Edo Period, from the 17th to the 19th century. During this time, when most city architecture was made of wood, fire posed a very real threat to the community, and the fire watch was started as a gentle, if insistent, annual reminder to use caution.
The evening begins with the assembly of the neighborhood fire guard in the town hall, which has been converted for these two nights into Fire Watch Headquarters. Once ten or twelve men have arrived, they’re divided into two teams and sent out into the neighborhood equipped with their clappers, flashlights and candle-lit paper lanterns to light their way.
The teams wend their way through the neighborhood, clapping the wooden blocks and calling out their message. When their mission is complete, they’ll return to headquarters for some tea or hot sake to help them warm up from a chilly evening of fire watching.
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