In my December 20 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about yomawari 夜回り – — neighborhood fire patrols in which wooden sticks called hyōshigi 拍子木 are clapped together to warn residents to be careful of fire. If you look closely at the print at left, in the upper right hand corner, you’ll see a ghost carrying a pair of these sticks. That’s Okuri Hyōshigi 送り拍子木 or sometimes 送撃柝, a ghost who haunts the Hongo neighborhood of Tokyo. Or more accurately a mysterious phenomenon that is one of the Honjo Nana-Fushigi 本所七不思議 (Seven Wonders of Hongo). The print dates from about 1886 and is part of a series by Utagawa Kuniteru 歌川国輝. The Edo-era story goes that when fire patrols in Hongo would bang their sticks, they’d hear another set of sticks. Thinking there was another patrol out and about, they’d look around, but no one would be there.
Interestingly, my research on Okuri Hyōshigi led me to this book by Asuka Akio which claims that Okuri Hyōshigi and other Japanese ghost stories originated not in Japan but in ancient Jewish tradition.
The title is “Yudaya kara kita Nihon no Yōkaitachi,” ユダヤから来た日本の妖怪たち (“Japanese Ghosts That Came from Judea”). This was so intriguing that I had to get my hands on a copy. (If you’re interested, it’s available on Amazon Japan by clicking here). I’m still trying to make my way through his argument, which cites the New Testament and gets into Freemasonry and pyramids. I’ll let you know if I figure it all out.
Finally, as promised at the end of my column, here’s a video, with some English subtitles and narration, that shows a typical Tokyo neighborhood fire patrol shot in December a few years ago.