Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Japanese firemen’s coats from the 19th century (publicdomainreview.org)
223 points by oska 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

> they would destroy the buildings surrounding the fire in an effort to contain it

Anecdota told by a Japanese friend: father used to be a volunteer fireman in his town. He really liked it, but not from the reasons you might expect. First, it was because there were frequent drinking gatherings. But also, during a fire in a house, the firemen would go inside and throw everything out (often destroying them in the process) to avoid the fire being fed. This includes the family ancestors shrine, which the father took a great pleasure to destroy (I think because of how sacred it is). He enjoyed that for years before his wife made him stop because she was fed up of him going home drunk.

Also, a some point in the year in Winter, volunteers firemen go in the street and shot aloud things I didn’t understand for as a tradition to warn the neighbors.

The shouting is probably 火の用心 and is accompanied by hitting some wooden blocks together as a percussion instrument.


Your an anecdote is pretty hilarious -- I remember seeing a shrine (Shinto) in my grandfather's house. But then there was also a Bhuddist thing ever you keep your ancestors' ashes. I wonder which one he enjoyed breaking. Perhaps both.

Edit: Here’s a video of some children in Hokkaido taking part in the tradition


Ah yes, that’s 火の用心 I think. Thanks for the remainder! A friend explained it to me after I asked about (frankly I was a bit scared at first, I was thinking it was a cult before reading something about fire protection on their vests) but I didn’t take note.

I don't get it. Why did he enjoy destroying those family ancestors shrines? And surely that kind of behavior would be noticed by others and result in serious social damage, no?

While we certainly take a different perspective on sentimental items (preserving property is a big part of modern firefighting), getting to break shit is a big part of the "fun" of being a firefighter.

Getting to beat down a door, or take a chainsaw to someone's roof is definitely a good time. Even better is cutting apart a car with hydraulic tools.

It's like a carnival, an opportunity to do something taboo without the social blowback. Many, maybe most, enjoy this.

From my non-Japanese background, it sounds equivalent to destroying cremation urns. I would expect outrage.

I'm assuming the owner of the units wasn't around for it at the time so there wasn't the backlash while saving the whole rest of a community from the fire spreading.

Don't ever discredit a certain percentage of humans urge to destroy and break things, especially in a drunken rage. We spend a great deal of effort keeping people well socialized, despite plenty of pent up anger.

That's why we have professionally trained police and firemen now. Things are always improving for the better.

Because the process (from what I recall) involves destroying the house and throwing out it’s burnable content. So, no outrage because this is what should be done. Granted, I didn’t interrogated someone who had their house burned about their opinion. Also, countryside context, not in a city.

> And surely that kind of behavior would be noticed by others and result in serious social damage, no?

Considering the official explanation of it is "avoid providing fuel to a raging fire", and those weren't the only things they were breaking, I'm not sure how an outsider would be expected to notice.

The Edo Tokyo museum has an exhibit on these coats, and the influence of firefighting in Japanese culture in general - definitely worth a visit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo-Tokyo_Museum

>The scene is from the story of the warrior-hero Minamoto no Yorimitsu (948–1021) who, once when sick, was visited by an evil priest in the guise of a giant spider. Yorimitsu saw through the disguise and attacked the spider priest, and his four attendants (who were playing a game of Go while guarding him) leapt up to track the intruder back to his den

That's... an interesting thing to put on your fire coat. I bet a lot of modern departments would love these. They are all about identifying as their individual groups and taking pride in being a team. Aramid is naturally the yellowish color that bunker gear already is but can be dyed, although you might have issues with fumes from the dye being heated in fires.

You could skip bunker gear entirely though and just do a startup making custom jackets like this. The aramaid used for bunker gear is woven so just develop a machine to weave using x number of colored threads and do fairly simple patterns like this. This would beat the heck out of embroidered jackets for teams/agencies/social clubs too and you could even resurrect some historical art like this spider. There's already computerized embroidery, computerized custom woven jackets would be awesome. Forget "ugly Christmas sweaters".

In the past beautiful patterns and designs in textiles showed pride and wealth, now a name sewn on the label does. Resurrecting stuff like this with tech, so that it is affordable to the masses, would be an awesome thing.

not everything is a startup

People always need textiles. People will always like textiles that are flashy and look cool. What's so wrong about making cool woven textiles with modern practices given they mostly don't exist anymore via traditional methods outside of living history pursuits like the SCA and living history museums?

I for one would love to have something akin to my winter Carhartt gear with some cool woven scene on them instead of plain, boring, without-imagination black. I'd even be willing to pay a 10-20% premium for it and order it months before the seasons I'd be wearing it in.

The only real place you have cool customization like this still going on with any regularity is sneakers.

There's nothing wrong with making cool woven textiles. I suspect if someone had a problem with your comment, it's because it sounds like you're workshopping a startup idea. I get that this is a very startuppy place, but even other startup founders probably get exhausted by all the business ideas shared on this website. (As the saying goes, ideas are cheap and execution is what matters)

I'm not saying you did anything wrong. Just sharing why I think your comment was downvoted.

It's a great idea that I'm sure some people would want. It doesn't have to be a "startup"

Unlike the other people I enjoy workshopping ideas like this and am glad you contributed. Thank you.

I think the problem is that you have a thing with no moat. Once you start getting any traction, you'll be hit by the drop-ship and print-on-demand guys who'll lemonize the market. You see this with 'Vaporwave' and 'retrowave' clothing which had a short Renaissance.

The opportunity is for the guys close to manufacturing who can rapidly print out each one and then spend the rest of their budget on marketing (say on Instagram).

Alternatively if you have a big brand, you can pull off stuff like Supreme's Dragon Work set (which I do have) but otherwise it's hard for people to spend because they'll assume they're buying from a fly by night print on demand Shopify site.

Of course it is. The only thing that it really is too much of right now is money looking for something to do. I think they are better used making some founders rich, even when the business case is a long shot, than inflating the stock market even more.

everything could be a small business, not everything is a startup.

VCs don't throw money on small businesses.

exactly. not everything needs vc money.

Damn, I'd wear a replica of this. Just make it machine-washable.

They pop up from time to time on vintage clothing sellers in Japan:


While not the same, a company called Hikeshi Spirit actually sells products with similar designs: https://hikeshispirit.com/en

These are nice, thank you!

I was thinking cycling jerseys.

If you are into tattoos this looks like it has some great ideas.

>Made of several layers of quilted cotton fabric, using a process called the sashiko technique, and resist-dyed using the tsutsugaki method, these coats would be worn plain-side out and thoroughly soaked in water before the firefighters entered the scene of the blaze.

Very surprised that wool was not used (it is fire-resistant and wicks sweat). Was wool not available to Japan during this era?

It seems that Japanese did not have much experience with wool and sheep. Wool would be imported product.


That's fascinating - you would think they would have some sort of access to sheep, alpaca, goats, or something that could provide wool. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole and found Japan was still one of the largest importers of wool if not the largest) in the world until this paper was written in the late 1970's. Their wool has historically come from Australia.


They never practiced any form of mass animal husbandry. Arable land for fodder would be at a premium for human consumption. Stripping the mountainsides are a danger in earthquake country.

Found another really interesting paper on this idea that animal husbandry was never really practiced in Japan.

". 'As animals are not used for milk, draught, or food, and there are no pasture lands, both the country and the farm-yards have a singular silence and an inanimate look.'1 She missed the sounds: '...a mean looking dog and a few fowls being the only representatives of domestic animal life. I long for the lowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep.'2 There were also very few horses: 'there is little traffic, and very few horses are kept, one, two, or three constituting the live stock of a large village.'3 Horses were not used for ploughing, nor, even, were they used for carrying. 'Very few horses are kept here. Cows and coolies carry much of the merchandise, and women as well as men carry heavy loads.'4 So rare were domestic animals even in the later nineteenth century, that they were exhibited like exotic species: '...monkey theatres and dog theatres, two mangy sheep and a lean pig attracting wondering crowds, for neither of these animals is known in this region of Japan."


Perhaps it was due to the ability of cotton to absorb up to 27 times its weight in water. It seems like water-saturated cotton would provide significant evaporative cooling, which might outperform wool's protective properties for short periods of time.

You really, really don't want water on your clothes in a fire. The heat transmission via water/steam will bypass your layers of protective clothing like it wasn't even there, and you will get seriously burned.

Source: used to work as a shipyard welder

I'd love to wear that spider + go board coat.

These are beauties. Heck, I'd likely buy a nice jacket like that!

I'd prefer to look at it on the _web_ :)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact