Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (19): Ringing the bell at the Gon-Gon Festival

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 24, 2007

THERE MUST BE SOMETHING in the water in Himi, Toyama Prefecture, because 70-year-old Kiyoharu Hayashi has retained his crown as King of the Gon-Gon Festival. During this festival, held this year on the 18th at the Jonichi-ji Buddhist temple in the city, adult participants use a 50-kilogram pine log in a competition to ring the temple bell. (Traditional Japanese bells are rung from the outside and not the inside.) The person who rings the bell the most in one minute wins. The name of the festival, Gon-Gon, is the onomatopoetic representation of the sound of the bell.

Not only has Hayashi won the event several times, he also holds the record for the number of times he was able to ring the bell in one minute—96. When I’m 70, I’ll be happy just to hoist a 50-kilogram log up to my shoulders, much less whack a bell with it more than three times every two seconds for a minute without stopping. Hayashi received 10,000 yen (about $US 85) for finishing in first place.

There’s a kid’s division, too. Children of junior high school age or younger try to hit the bell five times with a 20-kilogram log.

The Gon-Gon Festival originated during a drought. The local farmers went to the temple and asked the priest to pray for rain. They were so excited when the rains actually came that they rushed to the temple and started banging on the bell. They obviously got a big charge out of it, because they’ve been doing it annually ever since.

If you’ve got the time, click on the link to the temple to view a Japanese page with three nice photos. One is of the temple itself, another is of the bell during the daytime, and the third is of a tree on the temple grounds that is more than 1,000 years old. In fact, the story goes that it was planted when the temple was founded in 681. The trunk has a circumference of 24 meters.

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