Temple bells are part of the scrap metal used to fuel Japan’s war effort

In 1941, as the Japanese government scavenged metal wherever it could for the impending war in the Pacific, the country’s largest Buddhist group easily handed over its temple bells for the upcoming massacre.

The response of the Hongwanji School of the True Pure Land sect to the metal collecting order promulgated in August has enabled nearly 90% of its facilities to donate often century-old artifacts to be melted down to make weapons, ammunition, etc.

This little-known episode would likely have remained unchanged had it not been for the fact that the Hongwanji School had asked its branches nationwide last year how they were responding to the Imperial ordinance which amounted to a rallying call to arms.

Some of them said they recovered the bells donated after the war. It is still unclear how many requisitioned bells were cast for the war effort.

With hindsight, you could say that these are the bells that have not rung for anyone.

“The temple bell arrangement had previously been described in individual local historical documents, but this is the first national investigation that has clearly shown how the temples have responded to the government’s order,” Mitsuko noted. Nitta, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Ryukoku University in Kyoto.

Nitta participated in the study as a member of the research committee formed by the Hongwanji School to examine how religious organizations in the country were drawn into the conflict that ultimately claimed the lives of more than three million Japanese.

Records maintained by the Cultural Affairs Agency show that there were 77,000 Buddhist religious societies across Japan at the end of 2019. With 10,000 member temples mainly in the Hokuriku and Chubu regions as well as in areas over in the west, the Hongwanji school, directed by Nishi- The Hongwanji temple in Kyoto, is the largest of them.

The Hongwanji Group decided last year to survey its affiliated temples to gauge their commitment to WWII, and received responses from 38% of them.

The results show that 85 percent of establishments with bells on their premises donated them to the war effort at the request of the government, while 37 percent responded that they did not have any to donate to the government. ‘era. Five percent “donated bells but managed to get them back after the war ended.”

The Japanese government embarked on its metal salvage operation after the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937. The effort shifted into high gear with the promulgation of the Imperial Ordinance of 1941, which resulted in the strength of any object made of iron, copper and bronze. collected from private and public organizations.

Not only were the statues erected in the schools of the eminent scholar Ninomiya Sontoku (1787-1856) demolished, but pots, pots, old nails and gold buttons for household use were also seized to be melted down. for the production of weapons and other aspects of The Japanese War Machine.

Temple bells have proven to be a godsend in helping to alleviate a shortage of materials.

One of the temples which managed to recover its bell after the end of the war said “it had been abandoned on a street”. Another temple visited a metal refinery in search of a lost bell.

The extent to which the confiscated bells were used for the war effort remains uncertain due to the chaotic situation at the time and the lack of accurate records.

The survey also found that 55% of the school’s temples categorically refused to hand over metal objects designed specifically for Buddhist rituals. The Hongwanji School officially supported Japan’s efforts to prepare for war and conquest, although it later expressed regret for its wartime position and revoked its statement calling on its supporters to bring their aid in the conflict.

When asked about the school’s dark history, 46% of those who responded said they knew “little” or “nothing” about the time period and what was required of the sect.


The temples of the Hongwanji School of the True Pure Land Sect are still reeling from the loss of their bells, some of which were cultural treasures.

Kakumeiji Temple, located in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, near Lake Biwako, donated a bell over three centuries old on December 8, 1942, a year after the start of the Pacific War.

Tetsuya Uno, the 57-year-old high priest of Kakumeiji, said the bell was initially meant to be elusive because it was designated as cultural property. However, the temple collapsed after 12 other nearby temples, including those from other schools, voluntarily contributed their bells.

The Kakumeiji bell was taken apart for delivery following a joint memorial service held on the grounds of a local school. He never came back.

Uno also said that the head of another temple explained to him how the temple bells were handled.

According to Uno, the chief monk, who was an enlisted student in the Imperial Japanese Army during the war, visited an iron foundry in Kobe and came across countless temple bells thrown in a corner. They all had holes drilled about two centimeters in diameter, so that authorities could determine their metallic properties.

Other bells were half-buried in the floor of the temporary forge toilets to serve as toilet bowls. The temple leader recalled that he could not answer a call from nature out of deference to Buddhism.

“I thought Japan would lose in the war, because the bells that should ring to make people understand how important life is were used for weapons and toilet bowls,” said the monk as quoted by Uno .

The Shokyuji temple in Yokkaichi, in Mie prefecture, still retains in its enclosure a replica of the bell he donated. The slightly smaller concrete reproduction weighs 300 kilograms, roughly the same weight as the original.

Although it could not ring, the concrete bell proved invaluable in preventing the belfry from collapsing as it served as a weight.

Atsushi Yasuda, the chief priest of Shokyuji, said he was explaining the story of the replica to visiting elementary school students, as it embodied everything that was wrong with the conduct of the temple there are all these decades.

“Offering the bell represented a commitment to kill people and goes against the teachings of Buddhism itself,” said Yasuda, 59.

The Saijunji Temple in Kitagata, Gifu Prefecture, incorporated 28 military decorations collected by worshipers into its recast bell in 1950.

According to Makoto Miura, 69, the former chief priest of Saijunji, his grandfather headed the temple during WWII and worked to disseminate Buddhist teachings to residents of the military port city of Maizuru, in Kyoto Prefecture.

Her grandfather erected a torpedo-shaped monument to commemorate injured service members on the temple grounds and easily provided the bell without thinking about the matter.

Miura’s late father, who served as a second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Navy and took over temple operations after the war ended, carved the Buddhist phrase “hyoga muyo”, which means that no soldier or weapon is needed, on the bell reenactment of remorse for the temple’s approval of pro-war conduct.

“As an individual who dedicated himself to the war, he (my father) must have had a lot on his mind (after the war was over),” Miura said.

(This article was written by senior editor Tomoaki Ito and Kohei Higashitani.)

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