by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.19

The bronze bell in the "Tokinokane (time-telling)" Bell Tower constructed during the Meiji Period

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 bronze bell in the "Tokinokane (time-telling)" Bell Tower in Saiwai-cho, constructed during the Meiji Period. This is number nineteen in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The History of Cast Manufacturing
They say that cast metal manufacturing started in Mesopotamia around 4,000 B.C. In the beginning, copper was melted and poured into molds to make various kinds of containers. It was some hundreds of years before Christ when the casting technology was imported into Japan from the continent of China. During the first century (the Yayoi Period), bronze ceremonial implements shaped like partly flattened bells (Do-taku), bronze mirrors, and swords, etc., were produced. With the promulgation of the Taiho legal codes in 701, the social status of people in the casting business was established. During the Nara Period (710-794), superb statues of Buddha and bells for Buddhist temples were produced. It is said that after the middle of the Heian Period (794-around 1185), casting spread all over the country. During the Kamakura Period (around 1185-1333), pans, pots and agricultural implements, etc., began to be produced.
The Tokinokane (time-telling) Bell Tower
The "Tokinokane (time-telling)" Bell Tower (Map D-2)
Two Kawagoe Casting Families
In Kawagoe, there lived two casting families: The OGAWA Goroemon family and YAZAWA Shiroemon family. The Ogawa family began a cast metal manufacturing business in Shinmei-cho, Kawagoe, in 1543. From generation to generation, the owner succeeded the name "Goroemon" and continued the casting business. The name of their shop was "Nabeya (pan shop)" and they produced kitchen goods such as pots and pans, as well as bronze bells for temples and garden lanterns. The family was commonly called "Nabe-goro."
The Yazawa family ran a cast metal manufacturing business begun by their ancestors in the Medieval Period (from the end of 12th century through the end of 16th century). They were from Shinshu (now Nagano Prefecture). Their ancestors produced a bell for the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in the Todaiji Temple in Nara in 1614. The family started a casting business in Kawagoe in 1617. From generation to generation, the owner succeeded the name "Shiroemon" and the name of their shop was "Nabeya," like the Ogawa's, but they went by the name of "Nabe-shiro."
The Construction of the Initial "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
The "Tokinokane" Bell Tower was initially constructed when SAKAI Tadakatsu was the Lord of Kawagoe Castle (period of service: 1627-1634). He was also at that time the highest ranking assistant to the 3rd Shogun, Iemitsu. The bell tower was located northeast of the current tower. The first bell was produced by OGAWA Goroemon.
Lord MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna and the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
Kawagoe suffered great losses due to the Great Fire of Kawagoe in 1638. MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna, who became Lord of Kawagoe the next year, established the "ten-streets of castle town" and constructed the new tower in its current location at the center of town, Taga-machi. The weight of the new bell was 265kg. Two persons whose jobs were to ring the bell lived next to the tower and the people were informed of the time every hour. The tower played another role as a fire lookout. Whenever a fire seemed likely to attack the tower itself, ten foremen from the ten streets made desperate efforts to take the bell down and store it in a cellar.
Lord AKIMOTO Takatomo and the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
In 1704, AKIMOTO Takatomo was transferred to Kawagoe from Kai (now Yamanashi Prefecture). He did not like the bell produced under the orders of MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna because he said, "it is too small and sounds bad." So he brought a bell to Kawagoe from his former castle in Kai. This was the 3rd bell. They say it sounded very beautiful and could be heard far away. However, it was moved to Yamagata in 1767 with the transfer of Lord AKIMOTO Suketomo.
Down through Time
After that, the Kawagoe Domain borrowed a bell for the tower from the Cho-kiin Temple. Then, OGAWA Goroemon produced a new bell but it was lost in the great fire of 1774. The next year a new tower was built but for 70 years the domain borrowed a bell that was produced by YAZAWA Shiroemon for the Gyodenji Temple.
The current bell is the 13th. It was produced by YAZAWA Shiroemon and completed on July 26, 1894 after the tower was burned down in the Great Fire of Kawagoe in 1893. It weights 731kg.
I had the chance to ring this bell on the last day of 2002. The sound cut the air and spread out, traveling far into the cold night.
The bronze bell of the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
The bronze bell of the "Tokinokane" Bell Tower
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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