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April 28, 2003

Doutaku (ancient bells) Part 2

The Bells, The Bells
Bells in Japanese Buddhism and Shinto

The bell at Houkouji Temple in Kyoto thanks to Ukaji Masahiro's page

Joya no Kane
Joya no Kane: Links
Shinto Shrine Bells
Other Shinto Bells
Try if for Yourself!
Other Buddhist Bells

Joya no Kane
Japanese Buddhism has been so influenced by Shinto that it is often difficult to say whether a so called "Japanese Buddhist" ritual or custom is indeed "Buddhist" or in fact a Shinto ritual going by another name. "Joya no Kane" is one such "Buddhist" festival that appears to have a decidedly Shinto flavour. (Literally, Jo = Cast off, Ya = Night Kane= Bell, Casting off the year bell, or Ringing in the New Year). This is a ceremony held on the 31st of December, prior to the Shinto New Year Festival, aimed at self-purification (as many, if not most Shinto ceremonies are). Large bells housed in the grounds of Buddhist temples are struck 108; (nominally, often many more) times in order to purify those listening of the 108 sins that mankind are deemed to have. There are are a variety of explanations as to why there should be 108 sins. According to one theory the number 108 was the combination of Chinese lucky numbers (12 months, 24 soltices, 72 somethings) but there have been a variety of Buddhist explanations since. Buddhist explanations of this number often concentrate on multiples of the 6 senses (including the intellect) butthese explanations are probably bogus. The ceremony is said to have originated in a Song Dynasty i960-1279j Chinese custom, that was brought to Japan in the Kamakura(1192 - 1333), or Muromachi(1333 - 1573) periods.

Whatever the origin of the ritual itself, the timing of the Joya no Kane lies in the Shinto belief that the spirits (of the gods and ancestors) would return both in midsummer (now "O Bon") and mid winter. Specifically, the midwinter festival at New Year is the time of purification and rebirth, where after fasting, isolation and purification (Continued now in the traditions of eating plain soba noodles, staying at home with ones family, and listening to the bell) one would revive ones connection with the spirits at the first shrine visiting of the New Year . Having a purification ritual on New Year's Eve is, therefore, clearly of Shinto in timing, if not entirely in origin.

I have come accross no academic assertion of the kind but I am not the only person to suppose a possible connection between the Joya no Kane and the Doutaku used in the Yayoi period. I think that it is very possible that the Doutaku (which may have started off life as little horse bells) became bigger and bigger until they are now the Joya no Kane bells. In order to demonstrate a link between Doutaku and the giant "Joya no Kane" bells it would be necessary to ask the following questions. Is there any written record of bell sound prior to the arrival of the "Chinese" "Joya no kane" ritual. When it is said that Yayoi period (Giant) Doutaku did not ring, is this simply because they do not have an internal clapper or sign of having being struck internally by a peice of metal? Is it possible that they were struck with sticks from the outside and do they show any marks or dents? This Tokyo University Digital Museum page has recordings of Doutaku being struck with bones and sticks recommended). Many doutaku, have a hole or holes and signs of wear at the base.

The bells housed outside Japanese Buddhist temples are large and somewhat similar to "Doutaku" in Shape, and similar to Japanese Doutaku in that the do not have a clapper. They can be quite massive. The which is housed outside the Toudaiji Temple in Nara is 3.86 metres tall, 2.71 metres in diameter and weighs 26.3 tons. The Like all such bells it has a horizontal pole held by two pieces of rope that swings in to strike the bell like a hammer. In another big bell (OOgane) outside a temple in Nara, the hammer/pole is 4.48 metres long and weighs about 200 kg.

Yoja No Kane, and Bells used for Joya no Kane: Links
Here is a list of places to ring in the New Year in the Chiba area (in English)
Showing a photograph of people ringing in the New Year at a Temple in Nara.
Page showing a bell outside Gokurakuji Temple.
Young man striking a bell as part of the Joya no Kane ritual on this scuba diving school page, which also has an English homepage.
A Bell outside a temple being struck by a wooden stick from within.
A page showing serval people strike a bell outside Koueiji and Houryuuji Temples on New Year's eve. It is common for Buddhist temples to let visitors strike the bell, depending on its size.
A Buddhist Monk using his whole body to get the hammer to swing into a massive bell in Chion-in Temple in Kyoto as a practice ring for the "Joya no Kane" ringing the same night. A video, with sound of this belling struck by a group of monks (one of whom has to be acrobatic like in the photograph) is available on the same page as the photograph (256K, recommended). This bell was made in 1636, and at 3.3 metres high, 2.8 metres in diameter, and weighs 70 tons, it is the largest in Japan. With the bells at Toudaiji Temple (Nara, above) and Houkouji Temple (Kyoto), it is said to be one of the three great bells in Japan. The bell structure can be seen here.
The bell of Houkouji Temple (Kyoto) can be seen on this travel page.  This is the diary of someone that went to ring the bell at Houkouji with their family as part of the Joya no Kane. There is a large photo of the Houkouji Temple Bell as part of a photo diary.
On a bell outside Chinzouji Temple is engraved a pictorial rendition of the legend of "The Crane Wife" shown on this travel page. (Remember that Doutaku also showed pictures of birds and sometimes people doing things).
The Bell of Kanzeonji Temple in Dazaifu City the sound of which is described as one of the 100 sounds of Japan. This is part of the Western Japanese Railway pages that show a variety of temples and tourist attractions with explanations in Japanese and in English.

Shinto Shrine Bells
Before bowing twice, clapping twice and bowing once again - the traditional way to pray at a Shinto shrine. It is common to ring the bell that is suspended above the offering box in front of the shrine, and then put some money in the box. These bells, called Suzu, are normally round and quite different in construction to the Joya no Kane bells (or Doutaku). Some pictures:

A suzu bell and rope set for hanging over the offering box can be seen on this page of a vendor.
A similar bell on the page of a vendor.
Three bells of varying sizes and one rope on the page of a vendor, also selling an offering box on the page of a vendor.
Two people ringing the bells (shown small on either side of the rope above the people) before a prayer at a shrine on a travel page.
A vendor's page showing a variety of bells and ropes for use at Shinto shrines.
Another Suzu bell on a vendor's page.

Other Shinto Bells
Shinto shrine bells are also found attached to "omamori" and other talismen on sale at Shinto Shrines.
Two Suzu bells sold as talismen by Shinto shrines. The one on the left is marked with the tree swirl taoist symbol, "mitsu tomoe" which is popular in Shinto.
Talismen with and without bells being sold by a virtual temple in Tokyo.

Sometimes Doutaku shaped (Joya no kane style) bells are found at Shrines too outside Konpira Shirine as shown being struck by a hammer on this page.

Try if for Yourself!
You can both the Joya no Kane shaped bells and the Shinto Shrine bells, and more, at this virtual Shrine. You have to move one of the four circles that surround the main circle into the main circle. The top two are, from left to right, bell ringing (Kentsuki, yellow ocre) and shrine visiting (omairi, moss green). Click on one of these two circles and while holding the mouse button down, drag the circle into the large circle in the centre and then realse the mouse button. This will activate one of the two animations showing the two types of bell.

Other Buddhist Temple Bells
Before starting to pray at a Buddhist temple or upon entering or leaving it is common to strike a bell, such as the bells in the entrance of Daitokuji Temple (page here). There are usually small bells in front of the household buddhist altar (butsudan) which are struck before commencing the recitation of Buddhist scripture on ones daily prayer.

Japanese Family Names
Incidentally, Suzuki or "Belltree" is the second most common name in the ranking of Japanese (Japanese) surnames, even more common than "Tanaka" (Middlefield) and second only to "Satou" (Helping wisteria?)

Posted by timtak at April 28, 2003 01:39 AM