UN Peace Bell to Ring for International Day of Peace

As the world's only truly global organization, the United Nations has become the foremost forum to address issues that transcend national boundaries – and there are few issues of greater import than peace. Peace in the world cannot be achieved by any one country alone. It is a task to which all should be committed. From time to time, it’s worth taking a moment to remind people of that.

Enter the Peace Bell, donated by the United Nations Association of Japan in June 1954 and installed at the UN headquarters in New York City, New York. It has become tradition to ring the bell twice a year: on the first day of spring at the vernal equinox and on September 21 to celebrate the International Day for Peace. On the International Day for Peace, the sitting UN Secretary-General rings the bell to shine a spotlight and center our thoughts on the goal of achieving world peace.

A brief history of the United Nations Peace Bell

Chiyoji Nakagawa, the former counsellor of the United Nations Association of Japan and observer during the 6th session of the General Assembly in Paris in 1951, proposed to cast a new bell as a symbol of hope for peace. He solicited contributions from across the world, collecting coins, medals, badges, and even bullets from representatives of UN member states, Pope Pius XII, and citizens from more than 60 nations.

These items were dropped into the crucible at Tada Foundry in Takamatsu City, Japan, and smelted with copper and tin to form bell metal, a special kind of bronze. Distinguished bellmaker Jonosuke Tada XIV supervised the casting.

The result was a 256-lb. bell in the traditional Japanese bonshō profile, measuring 3.25 ft. tall and 2 ft. in diameter. Eight kanji characters are inscribed on the bell, translating from Japanese to English as: “Long live absolute world peace.” The tsuki-za, a raised and reinforced area on the bell’s surface where the bell is struck by a swinging log, is encircled by a gold-embossed laurel wreath, a symbol of peace.

The Peace Bell casting was completed on October 24, 1952, and then shipped to the UN headquarters. Rinpei Oshita, a traditional craftsman specializing in temple and shrine architecture from Uwajima, Japan, built a roofed but wall-less structure known as shōrō out of Japanese cypress to house and protect the bell. A handful of sand collected from Hiroshima was sent to accompany the bell and was buried under the foundation stone of the shōrō. The Peace Bell was installed near the Secretariat building at the UN headquarters and dedicated during a presentation ceremony on June 8, 1954. On May 28, 2009, the bell and shōrō were relocated to the UN rose garden.

Ringing the UN Peace Bell

At a special ceremony in 1994 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Peace Bell, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said: “Whenever it has sounded, this Japanese Peace Bell has sent a clear message. The message is addressed to all humanity. Peace is precious. It is not enough to yearn for peace. Peace requires work – long, hard, difficult work.”

In addition to ringing at the vernal equinox and on the International Day for Peace, the Peace Bell is tolled at commensurate occasions, including:

  • To commemorate the first anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1965 visit to the United Nations
  • To mark 10 years since the 1994 Rwandan genocide in 2004
  • To launch the International Year of Rapprochement of Cultures in 2010
  • To observe the 25th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl accident in 2011

The Peace Bell will continue to ring out and call nations together to, in the words of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, “wage peace.”

Cover image: President of the 74th General Assembly session Tijjani Muhammad-Bande rings the Peace Bell to mark the International Day for Peace at the UN headquarters in New York City, New York, on September 20, 2019.