By YASUO TOMATSU/ Staff Writer
May 30, 2023 at 07:00 JST
IZUMOZAKI, Niigata Prefecture--A centuries-old hanging bell that escaped being melted down for Japan’s failed war effort in the 1940s is finally back where it belongs.
The artifact was returned to Maninji temple here on April 26, 82 years after it was requisitioned by the government for munitions.
The bell was cast during the Genroku Era (1688-1704) of the Edo Period (1603-1867). But unlike countless other temple bells, it escaped being consigned to a furnace during the war. It ended up at a Buddhist temple in Ishikawa Prefecture after the war.
“This bell is a victim buffeted by war,” said Sokuen Takahashi, the 74-year-old chief priest of Maninji. “There should never be another war. I am so happy the bell is back here safe and sound.”
In a prelude to its return, a letter arrived in 1993 from the head priest of Ikakuji temple in the town of Togi, Ishikawa Prefecture. Togi is now part of the town of Shika.
The letter explained that a typhoon destroyed Ikakuji’s bell tower in autumn 1991, and a subsequent study found that the bell from the tower had an inscription saying: “Maninji, town of Izumozaki, Echigo’s Santo county.”
Echigo is the name of an old province that roughly corresponds to today’s Niigata Prefecture.
The letter also explained that the bell ended up in a Tokyo foundry in 1944 but the war ended before it could be melted down. The foundry’s proprietor donated it to Ikakuji, which was his family temple.
A newspaper clipping preserved at Maninji says the temple handed over a hanging bell in October 1941 to comply with the government’s metal collection order as the Second Sino-Japanese War was bogging down and Japan-U.S. relations were worsening ahead of the Pacific War.
Nothing, however, was heard about what had become of the bell, and for years the temple was without one.
The letter also said that Ikakuji’s belfry had been rebuilt and the bell was tolling again.
Takahashi was surprised by the story outlined in the letter but gave no thought to asking for the bell’s return since it had been associated with Ishikawa Prefecture’s residents for so many decades.
But in 2021, a resident living near Maninji temple offered to donate funds to call for a return of the bell.
Takahashi discussed the matter with his temple’s parishioners and decided to initiate talks with Ikakuji about bell’s return in exchange for a new one that would be donated.
Maninji raised about 3 million yen ($22,000) to cover, among other things, the expenses for making a new bell.
An agreement was reached with Ikakuji in October. The bell was removed from Ikakuji’s belfry on April 25 and arrived at Maninji, some 250 kilometers away, the following day.
The bell measures about 70 centimeters across, stands 130 cm tall and weighs 375 kilograms. Its deep-green surface carries an inscription that it was created in the fourth year of Genroku, or 1691.
The bell was carried into the temple’s main hall, where it was suspended from a beam of Japanese cypress wood, measuring 30 cm across, that had been installed for the purpose by Yoshio Yabe, a 74-year-old builder who is head of Maninji’s parishioners.
Maninji has another hanging bell, donated around 15 years ago, in a belfry by the side of the main temple hall. The bell is rung at 6 a.m. sharp daily.
“I don’t want this one to be exposed to the weather again,” Takahashi said as he caressed the artifact to welcome it home.
“People of the Genroku Era must also have had a hard time making this bell and offering it to this temple,” Yabe said. “I am overwhelmed with emotion.”
A replacement bell is expected to be installed at Ikakuji this autumn.
“I hope this will provide an opportunity to interact with residents of Ishikawa Prefecture,” Takahashi said.
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