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By Suzuki's Hand - letters and calligraphy

Being Careful with Fire
By recalling an old firewatch tradition, a calligraphy by Suzuki Roshi 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.


Here's a photo taken of this calligraphy when I was visiting with Hideko 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 he 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. - dc