Learn about the Different Parts of a Japanese Bell

Bronze bells dotted across the temples, monasteries, and landscapes of Japan differ greatly in size, weight, and ornamentation, but most maintain consistent elements across a standard shape and profile. Can you identify the parts of a Japanese bell?

Cast in one piece and suspended from a sturdy crossbar or structural beam, Japanese bells are typically arranged into three horizontal bands. Vertical lines further segment the bell’s surface into four equal sections. There is no clapper inside the bell. A mallet or swinging wooden beam is used to strike the bell and create a rich, reverberating sound with a very long sustain.

Parts of a Japanese bell:

Parts of a Japanese temple bell

Image: Illustration of a Japanese temple bell with numbered parts.

  1. Ryūzu | An arch formed by two downward-facing dragon heads clutching the kasagata in their teeth. The necks of the dragons join in the form of a flame or hojyu (sacred gem) to complete the arch, through which a rope or hook is threaded to suspend the bell.
  2. Kasagata | The domed crown of the bell.
  3. Nyū | Bosses arranged across the upper third of the bell that symbolize fertility and improve the bell’s resonance. Also called chichi. They are arranged in the uppermost horizontal band called the chichi-no-ma
  4. Ikenomachi | A barren field (‘pond area’) or flat panels providing a place for mei-bun – poetry or iconography that details the bell’s provenance. Others are decorated with depictions of tennin (heavenly beings) or Buddha.
  5. Jyutai | Vertical decorative lines that divide sections of the bell.
  6. Katai | Horizontal decorative lines that divide sections of the bell.
  7. Tsuki-za | A raised striking point or reinforced area on the bell’s surface where the bell is sounded by a mallet or shu-moku. Often decorated with a lotus or chrysanthemum motif to symbolize peace, enlightenment, longevity, and happiness.
  8. Shu-moku | The swinging wooden beam suspended by rope or chain. Having no internal clappers like Western-profile bells, the bells are sounded externally.

It is said the sloping shoulders and flat base of a Japanese bell emulate the seated posture of Buddha. As such, the bells are accorded utmost reverence and those sounding the bell will first bow three times on approach. Casting the bell is also a sacred event, with sprigs of hallowed mulberry, gold offerings, and papers containing Buddhist prayers tossed into the molten bronze.

Keep exploring.

Large Japanese temple bells are called bonshō, while smaller bells used for signaling are called hanshō. How does a Japanese bell differ from one cast in a Western profile? Discover the different parts of a tower bell to learn more!

Cover image: A bonshō, or large sacred Japanese bell, hangs with a shu-moku in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan.