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Fire Safety – 火の用心

One of the more iconic types of poster you’ll find in Japan are the fire safety posters. Often adorned with a cute girl or popular celebrity, they aim to raise awareness of accidental fires in the home and encourage people to be vigilant.

火の用心

ひの ようじん

Fire Safety

It could also be translated as ‘taking precautions to prevent fires’ or ‘watch out for fire’, among other things. The Kanji are quite simple too, so it’s a nice little phrase to learn to help remember the characters.

Interestingly, as a cultural point, volunteer members of the local fire brigade sometimes walk around the streets at night banging wooden sticks together. This is a form of 火の用心 – reminding people not to be lax with fire. I heard it most recently around Christmas and New Year on a few consecutive nights, when the cold winter air is dry and the risk of fire greater than normal. You can often recognise the activity from the distinctive sounds of two clacks of the wooden sticks (the onomatopoeia – カチン、カチン) and the almost ritual chanting that goes with it:

火の用心 – Watch Out for Fire!

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Special vocabulary:

拍子木 (ひょうしぎ) – Wooden sticks – used in fire safety practices like the one above, as well as in Sumo and Kabuki shows.
夜回り (よまわり) – Night rounds – Walking around (the neighbourhood) at night (for things like fire or crime prevention).


消したはず。決めつけないで。もう一度。

けしたはず。きめつけないで。もういちど。

I’m sure it’s out. Don’t assume. Check it once more.

Above is the rough translation of the poster. You’ll notice how it’s broken up into several shorter sentences that seem to flow quite nicely. The more astute among you may have even realised that it’s in the form of a 俳句 (haiku)! This is a short Japanese poem consisting of syallables (mora, actually), in the pattern of 5-7-5.

Some other 火の用心 haiku are as follows:

火のしまつ 君がしなくて 誰がする

ひのしまつ。きみがしなくて。だれがする。

Putting out the fire. If you don’t do it. Who will?

しまつ (しまつ) is a somewhat tricky expression having the nuance of the end/settlement/manage/deal with. In this case then, it refers to the ‘end of the fire’ or putting it out.

その油断 火から炎へ 災いへ

そのゆだん。ひからほのおへ。わざわいへ。

Your negligence. From flame to fire. To calamity.

This is a clever haiku creating a vivid image of a fire growing in intensity and ferocity. 油断 is to put something off or be negligent. The その here is unmistakingly pointing at each at us us, trying to get us to reflect on our own lack of action in the past. 火 is a flame or fire, the size depending on the situation. 炎 as you might guess from the Kanji being made up of two fires, is more like a blaze – a fire of greater intensity, although this too can depend on the context. Finally, we finish with 災い – the Kanji for disaster or calamity. You can imagine the smoke rising up from the fire of a great catastrophe.

You will usually find this Kanji in the word 災害 (さいがい), meaning disaster. It is made up of the Kanji for calamity (災 – さい) and harm (害 – がい).

List of previous slogans for fire safety by year.

Well then, stay safe this winter!

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10 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)
    -Sabrina

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

      • Lee Aloy October 23, 2016 at 5:20 am #

        @Gakuranman:

        I am sorry to ask this silly question. Are you Japanese?
        am hoping to find a Japanese friends here please shot me an email:

        • Michael January 6, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

          Not Japanese myself, but living here over 10 years now :).

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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