Dōtaku (Bronze Bell)

Period: Yayoi period (ca. 300 B.C.–A.D. 300)

Date: 1st–2nd century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: H. 43 1/2 in. (110.5 cm)

Classification: Metalwork

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1918

Accession Number: 18.68


Produced during the late Yayoi period, the distinctive Japanese bronze bells known as dotaku are thought to derive from earlier, smaller Korean examples that adorned horses and other domesticated animals. This dotaku, one of the finest known, is now believed to have been found in 1814 at Shimogo, Mikazuki-machi, Hyogo Prefecture. The body, shaped like a truncated cone, is decorated with rows of horizontal bands divided in the center by a vertical row. The elaborate flange, filled with sawtooth designs and further enhanced by projecting spirals, extends along the sides and arches across the top.

The first recorded discovery of a dotaku occurred in 662 A.D. at a temple in Shiga Prefecture. Over 400 examples, ranging in height from four to fifty-one inches, are known today. Most are from the Kyoto-Nara area. The earliest bells, cast in sandstone molds, are small and thick. Some make a rattling sound when struck with a clapper or stick; others have clappers hanging inside. Later on, larger, thinner bells were cast in clay molds that allowed for finer detailing. There is no evidence that the large ones were functional. They are thought to have been purely ceremonial objects.

Dotaku were buried singly, in pairs, and in large groups—occasionally with bronze mirrors and weapons—in isolated locations, often on hilltops. They have not been discovered in graves or near dwellings. Their placement suggests that they were communal property rather than owned by individuals. The rationale for the burial of these bells remains unclear, although it is often suggested that they were included in rites to ensure a community's agricultural fertility.