Last updated 10/11/14, 11/18/15
An interesting side story in Chang-su Houchins’s Artifacts of Diplomacy: Smithsonian Collections from Commodore Matthew Perry’s Japan Expedition (1853-1854)1 revolves around a large bronze bell, Gokoku-ji, that was among the items “given” to Commodore Perry during the fourth2 and final exchange of gifts between the U.S. and the Ryukyu Kingdom on 11 July 1854.
The original bell played, and the replica continues to play, a role in U.S. Naval Academy traditions. “Like the original bell, the replica is rung to celebrate football victories over Army. The bell is stationed in front of Bancroft Hall.”3
The only images that I could find of what I assume is the original bell are the low-resolution photos4 below. [Update 11/18/15: See the photo after the next.] The photo after these is of the present-day replica at Annapolis.
Houchins explains how the Gokoku-ji ended up at Annapolis:
Mrs. Perry presented the bell to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1859, after the Commodore’s death, in accordance with her husband’s wishes. Installed in a specially constructed belfry, the bell stood at the entrance to Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy until 22 July 1987 when the bell was returned to Japan. It is now housed in the Okinawa Prefectural Museum at Naha. (p. 12)
Houchins also provides the following background information re the bell:
The large bronze Gokoku-ji temple bell was cast by a Japanese metalworker in 1456 for King Sho Tai-kyO, who reigned from 1454 to 1461. The inscriptions on the bell have been reported to read: “Daiku Emon-no-jo Fujiwara Kunimitsu” (The [Japanese] Imperial Official Master Metalworker, Fujiwara Kunimitsu); “Keitai shichi-sai” (the seventh year of the Ming dynasty Ching t’ai period ), along with a lengthy votive epitaph. In translation it is said to read in part: May the sound of this bell shatter illusory dreams, perfect the souls of mankind, and enable the King and his subjects to live so virtuously that barbarians will find no occasion to invade the kingdom. Upon Perry’s explicit request, the Regent of the Ryukyuan Kingdom presented the bell to the Commodore. (8-9)
At the time of Commodore Perry’s visits, the bell was kept on the grounds of the Gokoku-ji Buddhist temple in Nami-no-ue, Naha.
1 Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, Number 37, Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, D.C., 1995. This is a large PDF so it may take a while to load into your reader. See the related post.
2 Commodore Perry made four separate visits to Naha between
June May 1853 and July 1854: 12 26 May 1853, 7-8 June 1853, 17 June 1854, and 11 July 1854. In the last, the focus was on negotiations for a treaty between the U.S. and the Ryukyu Kingdom. The kingdom was officially annexed by Japan in 1879.
3 “U.S. Naval Academy Facts, Figures and History,” retrieved 25 June 2013.
4 Yoshikawa Yukie, “Commodore Perry Meets the Ryukyu Kingdom,” Research Web Site, Regional Security Policy Division, Executive Office of the Governor Okinawa Prefecture, n.d. Retrieved 24 June 2013.