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Dear Alice,

I’ve been living in Japan on and off for a few years now, and in the various places I’ve lived I’ve seen groups of senior citizens dutifully patrolling the streets. Just the other day, in my latest location, I encountered a similar patrol. One of the men was holding a pair of wooden sticks that he would bang together every now and then. I would really like to know what the heck that stick-banging does. I did ask, in my horrible Japanese, and as far as I could understand it has something to do with fire. Can you clarify?

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