Vintage ceramic Japanese bell with attached rope cord. This bell is in good condition with no cracks or chips though it does have some marks, scratches and discoloration from handling and age. The bell takes the form of a Japanese Shinto shrine dog called komainu (aka shishi). This lovely little bell is less than 40 years old and was acquired in the historic city of Shizuoka, Japan near the foot of Mt. Fuji. Please read below to learn more about komainu and the Shinto religion.
Shinto is the native religion of Japan and many Shinto shrines will include two fierce-looking dog statues (see the next-to-last image below) guarding their entrance. The dogs (well, actually one is a lion), are normally seen as a pair and are typically found seated just inside the distinctive torii shrine gate. When entering the shrine the figure on the right (that’s the lion) with the open mouth is thought to be uttering the sound “ah” (meaning birth) while the figure on the left (dog) makes the sound “un” (meaning death). In combination the two figures are tasked with protecting the sacred ground of the shrine while the sounds they symbolically utter represent the cycle of birth and death. If my description is a bit confusing regarding dog vs. lion then this is because while the figures are historically different animals, contemporary Japanese usually describe both as simply “shrine dogs” or komainu. It is interesting to note that temples for Japan’s other major religion Buddhism, often have their own protectors guarding the gates. Buddhist temples are guarded not by komainu, but instead by carved images of deities who are thought to be brothers and who are called the Nio Guardians. The Nio are commonly seen standing with fierce postures on either side of many temple gates. Like the komainu, one brother has his mouth open while the other brother’s mouth is closed. Interestingly, the Nio are thought to be uttering the same sounds as the komainu with the same symbolic meaning of birth and death. This fact is yet another example of the interesting and harmonious coexistence in Japan of Buddhism and Shinto, which together form the spiritual foundation of contemporary Japanese life.
More about the Shinto religion
Shinto is one of the two major religions of Japan (the other is Buddhism). Shinto is often considered to be the native religion of Japan, and is as old as Japan itself. The name Shinto means “the way of the gods.” Shinto is a pantheistic religion, in which many thousands of major and minor gods are thought to exist. The Japanese have built thousands of shrines (jinja) throughout the country to honor and worship these gods. Some shrines are huge and are devoted to important deities. Other shrines are small and may be easily missed when strolling along roads in the countryside.
Shinto gods are called kami. Kami are thought to have influence on human affairs, and for this reason many Japanese make regular pilgrimage to community shrines in order to offer prayers to local kami. The act of prayer involves approaching the shrine structure, passing through the gate-like torii, cleansing the hands and mouth with water and possibly ascending stairs to the main entrance of the shrine. Usually without entering the shrine the worshipper will throw some coins into a stone or wooden collection box and then rattle the suzu bell which is at the top of a long hemp rope. The worshiper grabs hold of the rope and shakes it back and forth causing the copper bell at the top to rattle. This is thought to get the attention of the shrine god. The worshipper then bows twice, claps his or her hands twice and then bows again. In addition, the worshipper may clasp their hands together in silent prayer. Shintoism and Buddhism have managed to find a comfortable coexistence in Japan. Evidence of this harmonious relationship is found in the fact that that most Japanese are married in a Shinto shrine, but buried by a Buddhist priest.
item code: R2S5-0004475
ship code: L1650