Firebell thief

I'm back! I went to Beijing for work for a few days. Being surrounded by text in simplified characters that I could mostly but not entirely understand was a surreal feeling, like finding yourself in a parallel universe. (Of course, by most reasonable standards it would make more sense to call Japan the parallel universe, so I guess it was like being in one of those ironic high-concept SF short stories where the bizarre world the heroes find themselves in is revealed at the climax to be... our own!)

Anyway, while there I learned a new Japanese word from some old book or other: hanshō dorobō 半鐘泥棒, "firebell thief." This is a teasing way of referring to someone who is very tall, hyperbolically suggesting that they could steal the bell off an Edo-style fire lookout tower. The word hanshō 半鐘, incidentally, literally means "half-bell"; they're called that because they were originally used in Buddhist temples, where they were the smaller of the available bells (the larger being the iconic bonshō).

Here's a picture of a sign showing the various patterns that were used on the hanshō to send more specific signals than just "FIRE!"