Click. Click. Click-click. The

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Click. Click. Click-click.

The rhythm of wooden sticks has echoed through our neighborhood for the last few evenings as "fire patrols" make their year-end rounds.

Groups of four to eight men (and a rare woman) from the neighborhood walk through the streets, looking at each building to make sure none is on fire. The leader clacks his sticks and the others respond with a chant. "Yo-ii-yo-ii-yo!"

It's a tradition dating back to the days when Tokyo was mainly built of wood. Today's fire patrols vary widely in form and style. But whether they are a handful of tipsy old men carrying paper lanterns, or a platoon of uniformed neighbors, the gold braid on their caps glittering in the beam of their flashlights, they all pound out the same staccato beat.

Because we live at a confluence of streets and neighborhoods, there have been several groups walking past each night. I've enjoyed watching them. I think it would be fun to join in with them. Maybe next year.

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