12/27/07

Kyoto Street Cries  火の用心

The neighbourhood Fire Troop just passed by my house (it is 8.50pm) which reminds me put out my fires before going to bed, and to step on it re blogging the street cries of Kyoto. We have many, and how welcome they are - election time excepted, when it all gets a bit hysterical, living, as I do, at a handy little crossroads.
"Hi no youjin" (火の用心) is the cry of the Fire Troop. A three or four strong parade clack together resonant wooden chocks (hyoshigi) and announce "We are the Kita Shirakawa Neighbourhood Fire-watch Troop! Please take care to put out your fires before sleeping!" (Tonight being school holidays there was also a gaggle of children echoing behind). It's not quite as anachronistic as it might sound - 'though I suspect there is an element of tradition-keeping about the mode, rather like rag and bone men in London - as many people still use naked charcoal in hibachi pots and under their kotatsu hot tables. There are no chimneys here, except for those towering over the public bath house furnaces; old houses do not have central heating and are heated by hibachi and movable gas and kerosene burners. Fire remains an entrenched terror for the community in spite of the fact that high-risk swathes of wooden houses are fast disappearing under the bulldozers, thanks to inheritance tax and earth quake fears, to be replaced by concrete fortresses, supposedly quake proof and certainly less combustible.

Cries may be heard in this N. Kyoto neighbourhood (Sakyo-ku) for:
(Naked voice) vegetables (on foot, with hand cart), fire safety (on foot, with hyoshigi wooden chocks)
(Open truck and recorded song/announcement) bamboo and laundry poles, hot sweet potatoes, old newspapers and magazines, unwanted white goods/large recyclable 'rubbish' (incl. guitars), kerosene - you have to take your own flagon.
NB. The hyoshigi were also used by kamishibai travelling (bicycle) picture-storytellers, to call their audience, 1920s-50s)

Down town you can also hear criers with:
'donkey' cakes,
Aomori apples, in season
ice, in season
tofu (hand cart with just a hooter)

Not forgetting the shouts from market-stall holders and restaurants, and specially written jingles for the shopping arcades, certain shops and rubbish trucks, it is not unheard of to notice these ditties in your head whilst washing up. I always intend to record the sounds myself but, never getting round to it, I recently bought a book and CD called (in Japanese) Sounds of Kyoto, which includes street cries but also has the distinctive railway jingles and zebra crossing melodies (based on old songs), temple bells and chants, and some sounds of nature.

Further info:
Another person's blog
Kansai Time Out magazine Feb. 2008 (p12) has an excellent article by Colin Smith on regional variations in Japanese garbage truck music.
Far Side Music

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