Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Sounds of Japan: Bonshō Temple Bells

Photo: BBC
Inspired by the Begin Japanology episode 'Sounds of Japan' I have been reading about the various noises that make up the traditional soundscape of Japan. Amongst the list was the long, distinctive bong of a bonshō or temple bell.

It is a common sound in Japan and is said to have sacred powers representing the voice of the Buddha and  bringing good luck. Bonshō are often rung at dawn and dusk marking the transition between the natural and supernatural worlds, the world of the living and the world of the gods and spirits. Bonshō are also rung at New Year. At around midnight on New Year's Eve the bells are rung 108 times, a time for each of the 108 worldly desires that are being wiped away in preparation for the new year.

Kawagoe's ancient bell tower.
Photo: JNTO

Some bells, like one in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, are rung at intervals throughout the day forming part of the rhythm of daily life and helping people to tell the time. The bell in Kawagoe has been rung 4 times a day since the Edo period and is one of the 'Best 100 Soundscapes of Japan'.

Further Reading:
BBC World Service: Heart and Soul: Japan's Buddhist Temple Bells 
NHK World's Begin Japanology: Sounds of Japan

This article is part of my A Pillow Book of Japan project.


Post a Comment