September 28, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

Something wonderful and completely unexpected came in the mail this week from Lola Heiler-Stillman, whose extensive research on the mysterious Japanese Temple Bell I shared in a recent post. Ms. Heiler-Stillman wrote to thank me for featuring the story of this ancient relic and how it survived WWII and found a new home in Boston. She was particularly pleased that I emphasized the bell’s symbolic meaning of peace and reconciliation, a theme that goes largely unnoticed in its present location strapped to a stone plinth in a Boston park.


United Nations Peace Bell is located near the Secretariat Building at United Nations Headquarters. Credit: UN Photo

The bell’s story, as it turns out, has another interesting twist. According to Ms. Heiler-Stillman, petty thieves actually stole the bell in 2004, intending to sell it for scrap. I’d love to know how the bell was recovered and saved. Perhaps people at the scrap metal yard knew their Japanese history!


New Zealand's Peace Bell is in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Photo: Graeme Cash

But the most significant aspect of the story is how this bell, and many others, are part of a small but significant global effort, the Japanese Peace Bell Movement. Ms. Heiler-Stillman included a flyer and her outline for a presentation she’d made on Japan’s World Peace Bell Movement. She notes there are Peace Bells throughout the world. The one at the United Nations in New York is rung annually at the start of the General Assembly, and on International Peace Day.


The Los Angeles Peace Bell is located in the gardens of the Central Library. Photo: Diana Rosen

One Peace Bell was presented to the City of Los Angeles in 2001. It has become a feature of the Maguire Gardens of the Los Angeles Central Library. Their website has a wonderful post on the Peace Bell Movement. The first bell was the inspiration of Chiyoji Nakagawa, a Japanese soldier whose entire unit was wiped out on a Burmese battlefield. Wounded and alone, Nakagawa regained consciousness and found himself in a temple pagoda. After the war, his determination to promote peace led him initially to his own family’s temple in Uwajima City. Asking for donations, coins came from 26 different countries to be used to cast a new bell. Nakagawa contributed his military sword for the casting. The bell is a reproduction of a traditional Japanese temple bell. It is also ornamented with a laurel leaf to symbolize peace, and eight Kanji letters that translate: "Absolutely Peaceful World, Cheers.”


 The original Japanese World Peace Bell cast in 1947 was rung on the second anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Through the efforts of Chioji Nakagawa, peace bells were cast and placed in other Japanese cities, other countries, and the United Nations. In 1984, after his death, the World Peace Bell Association was formed and continues the mission to spread these striking symbols of peace to more and more places around the globe.

Seeing so many wonderful structures, pagodas and shrines that have been built for the Peace Bells, I share Lola Heiler-Stillman’s desire to see an appropriate setting for Boston’s Peace Bell. And remember, Boston has an actual ancient temple bell, a unique gift extended from civic and religious leaders in a city far away geographically, but connected forever to Boston by this gracious and meaningful gift.

Update: Ben blogs about his unexpected on-line encounter with a Peace Bell in Christchurch, New Zealand while filling his sketchbook as a virtual tourist.  Surprise Virtual Encounter with New Zealand's Peace Bell

Sacred Architecture/ Memorial/ Liturgical Arts