by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.18

"Tokinokane (time-telling)" Bell Tower constructed during the Meiji Period by SEKINE Matsugoro, a master carpenter

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the "Tokinokane (time-telling)" Bell Tower constructed during the Meiji Period by SEKINE Matsugoro, a master carpenter. This is number eighteen in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The Famous Short Story, "Goju-no-to" by KODA Rohan
The famous short story entitled "Goju-no-to (The Five-story Pagoda)" was written by KODA Rohan in 1891 when he was 25 years old. The style is quaint, but very poetic and beautiful. It describes an emotional conflict between "Genta of Kawagoe," who was a master carpenter, and his apprentice, "Jubei," over which of them would get the job of building the five-story pagoda in Yanaka, Tokyo. It is said though, that "Genta of Kawagoe" was not actually modeled on someone from Kawagoe. However, I assume that during the Meiji Period (1868 –1912) there were many skilled carpenters in Kawagoe as Rohan used the word "Kawagoe."
SEKINE Matsugoro
SEKINE Matsugoro was born the son of a carpenter in 1854 in Inohana-cho (now Taisho-Roman Street, Map D-4) in Kawagoe. The carpenter family was loved by the masters of the merchant houses and the townspeople. It is said that he became active around 1888. At that time he was 33, in the prime of his life. The year he was born, Japan opened its borders to the rest of the world. He must have improved his skills by watching in great detail the Western cultures flowing into Japan.
SAKAI Tadakatsu and the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
The original "Tokinokane" Bell Tower was constructed by order of SAKAI Tadakatsu, Lord of Kawagoe (period of service: 1627-1634). He was also at that time the highest ranking assistant to the 3rd Shogun, Iemitsu. It is said that he was very punctual and had a drum beaten at 9:00 a.m. every morning when the daimyo (feudal lords)" appeared in Edo Castle. As his timing was very accurate, this action became known as "Sakai’s Drum." The bell of the "Tokinokane Bell Tower in Kawagoe, built according to Sakai’s orders, was struck every hour from 6:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m.
The Great Fire of Kawagoe in 1893
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Bell Tower was burned down several times and rebuilt each time. The bell itself was also replaced many times.
Around 8:30 p.m. on March 17, 1893, a fire broke out in front of the Yojuin Temple. The town had enjoyed a consecutive run of fine weather, so the air was very dry. As a violent northwest wind was blowing, the flames wove their way through the clay houses and immediately spread. Firemen fought the fire with full force but the wells soon dried up and they were at a loss about what to do. Consequently, the town remained engulfed in flames until 8:00 a.m. the next day. Thus, the center of Kawagoe town was completely burned down. Of course, the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower was also burned down.
Reconstruction of the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
In order to reconstruct the tower, the town and the people decided to work together positively. Businessmen, statesmen, scholars, the mayor OKADA Shugyo, town assembly members and others collected 2,700 yen including 1,500 yen from Emperor Meiji. A bronze bell was produced by YAZAWA Shiroemon, who was a town assembly member at that time. The tower was completed on July 26, 1894, the year after the fire.
The Tokinokane (time-telling) Bell Tower
The Tokinokane (time-telling) Bell Tower (Map D-2)
SEKINE Matsugoro and the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
The tower was designed and constructed by SEKINE Matsugoro. It was completed on Aug. 9, 1894. They say the tower’s structure replicated that of towers from the Edo Period. The height is approximately 16 meters, almost the same as the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in Nara. I wonder how he transported the materials and built four pillars of such length in the crowded town? How did he assemble the pillars in front of the small "Yakushi-do" area?
The next year, in 1895, he put up the framework for the clay house "Fukazen (a picture framing shop)" and then in 1897 the clay house "Machikan (a knife shop)." These buildings constructed by Matsugoro still stand with dignified grace.
The "Tokinokane" Bell Tower was chosen to be one of the "100 Soundscapes of Japan" by the Environment Agency in 1996. Currently it operates under electrical power, but tells us the time with its impressive sound four times a day: 6:00, 12:00, 15:00 and 18:00
Clay walled houses by SEKINE Matsugoro on Clay-house Street
Clay walled houses by SEKINE Matsugoro on Clay-house Street (Ichiban-gai)
*The "Tokinokane" Bell Tower is under maintenance construction until December 2016.
The Tokinokane Bell Tower under maintenance construction
The "Tokinokane" Bell Tower under maintenance construction
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

« previous

back to Contents

Background Picture1

Background Picture2

next »

▲back to top

Illustration of Kawagoe