Also:       hanshō      denshō      bonshō      kane      hontsurigane      

Title: Demo: hanshō. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The hanshō is a suspended (stationary) clapperless-bell idiophone used as a signaling instrument at Japanese Buddhist temples. Such bells come in a variety of sizes from gargantuan multi-ton outdoor ones called bonshō permanently hung in their own towers (see detail photo of one such bell at the Tōdai-ji temple in Nara, Japan; this bell, installed in 732 CE, has an opening diameter of over 9 feet and weighs more than 28 tons) to much smaller, indoor versions used as part of monastic life. Medium size, but still impressive at approximately 5 feet in height, bells hung from structural beams at the entrance to many Buddhist temples are called bonshō, and even smaller ones (a foot or more in height), such as the bell pictured and described here, are suspended from a stand in the ceremonial space of a temple and referred to as hanshō (‘half-size bell’). Temple bells, especially large ones like the bonshō at the Tōdai-ji, produce a deep and long-sustained tone that is perceived as simulating the spiritual essence of the sacred word ‘Om’ (Price p. 210, 214). Although closely associated with Buddhism, hanshō were once also found hung in village fire-watch towers to sound an alarm.


This bell is cast in one piece, using the lost-wax method (cire-perdue), and has a circular opening. Molten bronze is poured into a mold that has worked into it the surface details seen in the gallery image (such as the ryūzu [‘dragon head’], chichi-no-ma [‘nipple area’], ike -no-ma [‘pond area’], and tsukiza [‘striking-point’]). There is no clapper inside the bell. The hammer-like mallet used to strike it is made of wood.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The hanshō is suspended from the crossbar of a wooden stand or from a structural beam. A rope threaded through the arch (called ryūzu) located at its apex is used to suspend the bell. The player strikes it on its striking point (tsukiza) with a hard, hammer-shaped mallet. It gives forth a high-pitched, penetrating sound with a very long sustain (listen to the audio clip on this page). Its primary religious function is to call participants to a temple hall in which a ceremony is about to take place. Typically it is struck several times in rapid succession when used for this purpose.


Buddhist temple bells were introduced, along with Buddhism itself, to Japan from China in the 8th century CE. However, the lost-wax method of bellfounding was already known well before this time throughout East Asia, including in Japan, where prior to the 8th century CE bells with rectangular and oval openings were already being manufactured. 

Bibliographic Citations

Hughes, David W. 1984. “Bonshō.” NGDMI v.1: 251.

Malm, William P. 1959. Japanese Music and Musical Instruments. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company.

Price, Percival. 1984. “Bell (1-5).” NGDMI v.1: 203-216.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: Japan

Formation: Japanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.242.121 idiophone--individual suspended bell suspended from the apex: struck from the outside (no striker is attached inside the bell), there being a separate beater

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: bell-shaped vessel - with opening

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - partially padded stick/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


19.2 in. height 11.5 in. diameter of opening rim

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter