Our Japanese New Year Bronze Bell — Believe It or Not

Buddhist bell, 1532, Tachibana Kyubei (Japanese). Tajima province, Japan. Bronze. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of William Goodman.

Buddhist bell (detail), 1532, Tachibana Kyubei (Japanese). Tajima province, Japan. Bronze. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of William Goodman.

Our mountmaker, Vincent Avalos, shares some fun trivia about installing our 500+-year-old bell. Believe it or not!

The little knobs on the bell that look like asparagus shoots are probably actually stars.

The wedge-shaped ebony tenons you see are called nuki, but as far as I know they have nothing to do with pacifiers.

The nuki are essentially decorative. Long steel bolts inside the beams are what give the structure its actual integrity.

Each year that we put the belfry together, the elm gets a little more warped, making it a harder to get the beams into their respective joints.

If you stand inside the bell while it rings, you can make out the sound of “good morning” in Japanese: OHAYOU!

If we’ve all had our Philz coffee, no one bothers us, and we can remember how to put it together, we can get the bell up before noon. But this is almost never the case.

The original belfry was made of giant fir beams that would injure about one preparator a year… usually a back injury.

By the original belfry’s last days, it had become severely warped and twisted, making the final structure visibly lopsided.

One year (after we had installed the belfry), the mochi pounders for the New Year ceremony decided the bell was in the way and somehow just pushed the whole set-up across the room. You’d have to ask Director of Education, Deb Clearwaters, how many mochi pounders it took to move a 2,100-pound bronze bell.

All jokes aside, here’s a time lapse video of how we installed the bell one year:

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