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Kobe Bell

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1962, Shusa Noji. 305 Harrison St.
  • (Phootgraph by Lani van der Johnson Linden)
  • (Phootgraph by Lani van der Johnson Linden)
  • (Photograph by J. Philip Gruen)
  • (Photograph by J. Philip Gruen)

On the grounds of the Seattle Center is the Kobe Bell, a ceremonial, 600-pound bell contained under a roof typical of Japanese Buddhist monasteries. It was a gift from Kobe, Japan (Seattle’s first sister city), and it marked the opening of Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition in 1962. Located in its original position between the International Fountain and Mercer Street, the bell’s design is noted for its combination of traditional Japanese design with modern influences.

Typical of Japanese ceremonial bells, the bronze Kobe Bell has a conical shape and is meant to be struck from the outside. Its exterior surface is organized into rectangular panels covered with decorative details including dragons, seaweed, stylized female figures, and ornamental knobs. An inscription, which records the gift from Kobe to Seattle, is also included on the exterior.

The bell is housed within a wooden structure designed by Shusa Noji, a professor of architecture from Kobe University in Japan. The structure features a hipped and gable roof with widely projecting, flared eaves and exposed rafter tails. The building’s design is similar to shōrō, which are wooden towers, intended to hold bells, and often part of Japanese Buddhist monasteries, or pagodas. Yet Noji included a more contemporary design sensibility with a decorative concrete base and clustered posts instead of a single column at the corners.

The bell was intended to represent efforts to improve international relations after World War II. Following a directive by President Dwight Eisenhower that the U.S. attempt to develop ties with former adversaries, Seattle selected Kobe as its sister city because of the two municipalities’ many similarities, including their ports, significant universities, and support of the arts. The bell was one of many gifts exchanged between Seattle and Kobe as a result of what became a “sister city” venture.

Writing Credits

Julianne Sandlin
J. Philip Gruen
Robert R. Franklin



  • 1962

    Design and construction

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Julianne Sandlin, "Kobe Bell", [Seattle, Washington], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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