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By Suzuki's Hand - letters and calligraphy

Taking Care with Fire
By recalling an old firewatch tradition, a calligraphy by Shunryu Suzuki passes on a  message for today.

Calligraphy by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:
"Be Careful with Fire"


The tradition of firewatch in Japan may have begun in the seventeenth century when night watchmen would walk through the streets hitting clappers to remind people to put out cooking fires before sleeping. This was very important for houses made of wood and paper. Even today, on the eve of the new year in Japan, a group of volunteers will patrol neighborhoods, hitting their clappers and chanting hi no yo jin: be careful with fire!

Years ago the founder of San Francisco Zen Center, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, represented that phrase in Japanese calligraphy in the piece shown here. It hangs today in Central Abbess Eijun Linda Cutts' office, and reminds us that the traditional warning is as relevant as ever. Fire can both destroy and serve, protect and harm, nourish and deplete. We must balance proper use of fire with its proper care.

Text above and presentation from a SFZC fundraising email sent 12/14/15.

Hi no youjin 火乃用心。- thanks Shohaku Okumura


Here's a photo taken of this calligraphy when I was visiting with Hideko Oga a few years ago when it hung on the kitchen wall. I remember telling her I wish I'd known about it before Fire Monks was finished - or maybe wish I'd been reminded of it.

I wrote the following before Grahame went to a convalescent home in April of 2016:

This calligraphy was given by Shunryu Suzuki to Grahame Petchey and donated to the SFZC by his ex-wife, Hideko Oga. Don't tell him. He is not in good shape and never gets downstairs anyway where it hung.

Suzuki referred to the same lines but maybe a different rendering in the following lecture at the City Center two days before New Year's Eve December 29, 1968.

Next Tuesday we will have no lecture, so this will be the last one for this year. At the end of the year we clean up our house and we throw out old things which we do not use anymore. And we renew our equipment, even renew furniture. And after cleaning our room we we put in the new. We take off old mats and put out new ones. In the temple we have a prayer to control fire. [Suzuki shows the calligraphy scroll] “Taking care of fire,” it says in Japanese.   --------------------------- Excerpt from Shunryu Suzuki lecture - 68-12-29 as found on

Fire is always a threat to Japanese temples constructed of wood with candles and incense burning inside. But after New Years there are fires to burn the old and bring in the new so New Year's is a good time bring up fire safety. - dc