The Kanshō – “calling bell” is the medium sized bell 2 to 3 feet in length which is hung near the Naijin (alter) area of the Hondō (room where we hold the service). It is rung immediately before the start of a ritual or service to call the members of the Sangha. For regular services, the Kanshō is struck with a wooden mallet and a pattern of 7–5 – 3. The Kanshō is struck seven times then followed by a series of fast, soft beats. The Kanshō is then struck five times followed by another de-crescendo pattern and finally struck three times. For funeral services, the pattern is 2-5-3. The numbers 7, 5, and 3 are pivotal numbers in Japanese Buddhist culture. They are of ancient origin and their exact meaning has been lost. The Kanshō was not used in Shin Temple until the 17th century, the first use of it being recorded as the year 1688.
In Japanese culture, the numbers 3, 5, 7, and 9 are preferred over even numbers. Aesthetically, the Japanese are partial to asymmetry while the Chinese are partial to symmetry. In Buddhist temples, both systems are preserved. In Naijin/altar objects, flower arrangements, offerings, etc., the odd numbers show in Japanese preference while even numbers show a Chinese preference. The even more symmetrical arrangements are considered the more formal by the Japanese.
The Cleveland Buddhist Temple was given our table size Kanshō as a gift when we moved to our new space in Shaker Heights.
Excerpt in gratitude from: Masao Kodani, Russell Hamada, Traditions of Jodoshinshu Hongwanji-Ha (Pureland Publications Senshin Buddhist Temple 1995)