For Obachaaan, Japan’s grandmother ‘idol group’, the fire still burns

Obachaaan fronting Osaka’s fire safety campaign.
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/大阪市消防局YouTube

A gaggle of aggressive grannies from Osaka has been roped into the city’s annual fire prevention campaign, starring in an offbeat video designed to warn older residents of the risks of smoking in bed or forgetting a pan on the stove.

The women in the video are members of the “idol group” Obachaaan, which means “old lady” and was formed by a group of senior citizens in 2012 to extol the attractions of Japan’s second city and offer a counterpoint to popular teenage boy and girl bands.

Their debut single – Obachaaan Theme – was a rap track about their “monster make-up” and how they have “secret pocket money” their hard-working husbands do not know about. The video clip featured the women decked out in leopard-print clothes and ostentatious jewellery.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85oVN0Ao20A&feature=emb_logo[/embed]

Last year, the women – whose average age is 66 – released their first English-language track, Oba Funk Osaka , to welcome foreign visitors to the G20 summit in the city.

The grandmothers have now volunteered to take part in the city fire department’s fire prevention campaign, which starts in mid-September every year to coincide with the Respect for the Aged national holiday.

A total of 2,159 house fires were reported in Osaka in the five years to 2019, causing 112 deaths. Of those, 92 deaths were of people aged 65 or older, highlighting the risks for older people who live alone, often in small and dated properties.

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According to the city’s fire authorities, most accidental fires were caused by cigarettes, accounting for 410 of the 2,159 house blazes, followed by 349 caused by objects on stoves catching fire. An additional 186 fires started when people left a kitchen stove unattended.

Traditionally, hinoyojin are groups of people who walk around neighbourhoods in the autumn months, banging lengths of wood together and calling out warnings to people to beware of fires.

The Obachaaan are taking this tradition further with their contribution to the 30-second clip, which features them breaking through wooden sliding doors or the walls of a flat and yelling at people who have turned their back on a flaming stove or are falling asleep with a lit cigarette.

In all their gaudy made-up glory and glittering jewellery, the women then blow out the offending flames.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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