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!"

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Helpful photo of the signal system! Were ordinary people likely to know all the different meanings of the bell signal patterns? Or were the distinctions mainly for other firemen? It's not quite as complicated as signal flags on ships, which I suppose were mostly known to special groups of sailors and harbormasters.


I can almost understand the system of the dots and the connecting lines. Presumably the dots are bell strikes, the lines are sustain, and the spaces between dots where there are no lines are dampening of the bell. But I am totally lost with the parallel lines of dots, do they have two bells? And the zigzags are incomprehensible.


Mother 3, the cult videogame made by famous (copy)writer Shigesato Itoi, takes place in an idyllic island village, with each villager having a job. There's an absurdly tall man, Leder (リダ), whose job is to ring the bell.


Huh, I wonder if that was inspired by this phrase.

Charles, I think actually the connected dots are meant to be struck quickly and the unconnected ones not, like eighth notes vs quarter notes, or dot vs dash in Morse Code. Check out this YouTube channel (the patterns don't actually match, though...)


The stuff below is apparently for the siren and it baffles me too -- I guess it's a hand-cranked one and you can do things with it that corresponds to those diagrams.

Joel, that's an interesting question! Let me look into iy some more.


Ah, I think I can visualize (audialize?) that, although it still isn't entirely clear. And I think the hand cranked sirens increase in pitch as you crank harder, decrease as you lighten on the crank, so that sort of makes sense too. Almost.

BTW I will refer you to one of my favorite pages on the internet: a guy who collects and restores vintage Civil Defense sirens.


Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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