Bells, Big and Small

Different kinds of bells in Japan

By Elena Lisina    - 3 min read

During my trips to Japan I took many photos of bells. There are various kinds of bells here, both big and small ones, and each kind has its significance.

The sound of a bell is important in many religions as a call to service. In Japanese religions sometimes a person simply claps their hands to attract the attention of the gods. But in many Shinto shrines there are special bells in a round shape with a long rope, which require a person to shake the rope and ring the bell loudly before applying to kami (God). At large shrines there are many bells and they are quite big, and in contrast at small shrines there is often just one bell of a small size.

Small round bells are often used in Shinto rituals and a good collection of those bells can be viewed at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Hamamatsu. Bells are often attached to special guardian talismans called omomori. Also, some ceramic dolls-bells can be purchased at Shinto shrines. The sound of a bell is considered to bring good luck and drive away misfortunes. Two bells were attached to the staff that I bought in Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha to make the ascent safe and successful.

Near Buddhist temples you'll often find the placement of a large bell. For a fee of 100 yen visitors can strike the bell with a large attached bar, and it's believed that by doing this a person's dreams will come true. The sounds these bells is low and loud – very impressive! Once I walked through Yudanaka along a trail in a wood starting from a temple and met a bell on my way. I rang that bell and heard the sound spread all around so loudly that it frightened me. Walking through Hitachi Seaside Park I saw a big line and wondered what it was for. Then I saw a bell on the top of a hill and realized that people were standing in line to ring the bell – for good luck, I bet!

Metal bells are often can be seen as roof decorations at Buddhist temples and tombs of some important persons on the temples’ grounds.

Besides the religious and guardian meanings of bells, wind chimes are often hung for their pleasant sounds. Such bells are usually made of metal. In summer, glass wind chimes called furin are very popular. Both types of wind chimes are sold in many souvenir shops of Japan.

An interesting festival called the Saitama Enmusubi Furin Matsuri is held annually in Kawagoe, and you can find a market fillled with handmade bells and chimes called Furin-ichi in Kawasaki-Daishi. Both events are worth a visit!

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Elena Lisina

Elena Lisina @shiroi.tenshi

I love Japan very much! I like small towns of Japan where I can watch people doing their business and talk to them carefully. They're always friendly. I like Japanese gardens where I can just sit or walk and take my time. Also I like Shinto Jinja as being there I feel in peace. I like to watch sunsets and then to dine in some small local places. I like to soak into onsen after a long day of wandering. I like Japanese crafts very much as all items are made with great taste and skill. Nihon wo daisuki desuyo! My photos from Japan I also place here: Matane!