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.