The amazing story of The Carter Center Peace Bell
BY I.M. LYTEMAN
Acolyte was proud to have donated Static White Series 2 RibbonLyte to help illuminate the The Carter Center Peace Bell in Atlanta, Ga., through our amazing partners at Smart Lighting Solutions. Long thought to have been lost to war, here is the amazing story behind the Peace Bell:
The bell was cast in 1820 for the Shoganji Temple in the farming village of Konu, Japan. “The striking of the bell has three virtues,” wrote the abbot of Shoganji Temple at the time. “First, it brings wisdom, second, it reduces the sins and sufferings of the listeners, and third, it dispels demons.” Housed in a cypress tower, the bell was used for some 120 years to mark time, warn of fires and celebrate holidays.
In 1942, after Japan had entered World War II, the Japanese navy confiscated bells across the country, including the Shoganji Temple bell, to melt down into ammunition. Somehow, the Shoganji Temple bell survived. It ended up in the collection of Englishman James Tayler, whose son Milos found the bell in his late father’s possessions and moved it to Georgia.
The Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta bought the bell (without knowing anything of its history) from Milos Tayler. In 1985, they presented it on behalf of the Japanese community to Jimmy Carter, who as governor of Georgia and later as President had strengthened business ties between Japan and the U.S.
An inscription on the bell was decoded in 1987 to reveal its humble origins, and a Japanese delegation traveled from Atlanta to Konu to let villagers know their beautiful bell had somehow survived the war. Carter wanted to return the bell, but Konu refused. Instead, they cast a replica they dubbed the Friendship Bell, and hung it in the original cypress tower which stood empty all these years.
Carter decided to visit Konu, and the village built the Jimmy Carter Civic Center to honor him. Later, they planted peanuts as a token of their friendship with the former peanut farmer-turned-President. The Konu Carter Peanut Harvest Festival is still held each November.
Some three decades later, Jessica Cork, the chair of The Japan-America Society of Georgia, suggested moving the bell from The Carter Center lobby, where it was proudly displayed but unrung. And so it was that on Sept. 30, 2022, the “Peace Bell Tower,” a replica of the original bell tower at Shoganji Temple, was dedicated on The Carter Center grounds.
The new tower was carved from 150-year-old Japanese cypress by local Konu carpenters and assembled in nearby Hiroshima. Visitors to The Carter Center in Atlanta can now ring the Peace Bell, a “powerful symbol of friendship and goodwill,” with a custom cypress hammer. “It is meant to be rung,” Cork said. “We want it to be active.”