The entire area was covered in mountains. The place where I grew up, everywhere you looked was nothing but mountains.
When I was a child, there was a “bell” at the temple that looked after me. There’s a reason I write it like that, and that’s because it was made of cloth and rope bound around and around. It didn’t have the usual log to ring a bell either.
As I got a bit older and started watching anime like Ikkyu-san, I realised that thing hanging in the corner by the temple roof was supposed to be a bell, yet nobody had ever seen the inside of it. I remember asking me parents about why it looked like that when I was in elementary school, but they didn’t know why either, and when they were kids they called it the “winding bell.” Of course, they hadn’t seen what was inside it either.
Time passed and I moved out of home to start university. I went back for the summer holidays, and although our family home was in the countryside, things had started to develop nearby.
My old room had turned into something of a closet, but when I looked out the window the familiar scenery had changed, and I could now see the temple with the “bell.” That temple sat on top of a mountain, but there used to be a smaller, undeveloped mountain in front of my window that blocked view of it in the past.
Ah, seeing the mountain gone reminded me that we’d never be able to catch bugs there again, never be able to eat from the chocolate vines again. It made me sad as I stared out the window at the temple.
The temple was far in the distance, so it was only about as big as the nail on my thumb. At dinner time I mentioned that now that the rear mountain was gone, we could see the temple. They said that right after I left for university, the temple was abandoned and now a monk came in from a nearby larger temple only for memorial services and festivals.
One night, I was unable to get to sleep. My pillow didn’t feel right, maybe because I’d gotten used to living on my own. But then I suddenly a low, deep sound coming from somewhere. ‘The bell?’ I wondered and turned to look at the window.
The moon outside was nearly full, but the temple was so far away that I couldn’t see the bell in the moonlight. I stared at it for about 10 seconds, and then there was an artificial flash of light for just a second. Intrigued, I got up and went over to the desk I’d used when I was a student. If my mother hadn’t thrown them out, my binoculars should still be in there. And thankfully, they were.
I looked through the dusty lenses and although they didn’t magnify the area too much, I could vaguely see people moving around in the dark. There appeared to be three people doing something near the small building that housed the bell. They seemed to have a torch, but they must have been covering it, because they only shone it on the surrounding area every now and then.
As I watched, the three men lowered the bell to the ground. That sound I heard earlier must have been because of that. It seemed they were unable to get the bell out of the building. It didn’t have any walls, but instead had horizontal pillars surrounding all four sides, which made it impossible to get the bell out. This was before stealing metal became all the rage, so I just watched them, unsure of what they were trying to do.
I wiped the lens of the binoculars with my pyjamas and my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. Two of the guys wrapped some of the bell rope around some wooden poles and then lifted it up. They managed to get it out of the shed, but then it fell back down again.
The pair covered their ears. Three seconds later, I heard the sound too. Goooooooon. Birds flew off in a panic and several dogs barked. Numerous lights in the area also turned on. When I looked back through the binoculars, the people were gone.
The next morning, well it was closer to lunchtime really, but when I woke up, my mother asked me if I’d heard that sound last night. I couldn’t be bothered explaining everything I’d seen, so I vaguely answered and then went back up to my room to have another look through the binoculars.
There appeared to be numerous people gathered around the building that housed the bell, so I jumped on my bike to head over and check it out for myself. Maybe there was something interesting there.
There was a white rental van inside the shrine grounds when I got there. The bell had fallen from its place inside the shed to the ground below. The police had apparently finished their investigations as well. The criminals had abandoned their car and taken off. They didn’t take anything, so the police and temple would alert the local council to what had happened, and that was that.
One of the local firefighters then asked when they were going to do about the bell.
“Shall we hang it back up?”
“Why don’t we just leave it where it is?”
As everyone was talking, I noticed A-kun’s grandmother in the crowd. His family moved out of the village when we were in elementary school, leaving only his grandmother behind. I hadn’t spoken to him in forever, but I was the same age as her grandson, so she often treated me well, and I’d gone over to her house to play long after he left as well.
“Long time no see,” I said.
“Oh, it’s you. They’re saying someone tried to steal the bell. What a terrible world we live in,” she said.
“Can they even sell something like that?” I asked.
“After the war, there were people that came around to buy our bikes for their iron junkyards, but…”
“Maybe they wanted to sell it to one of those TV programs that collects all sorts of junk?”
“I wouldn’t pay money for Goze-san’s bell.”
According to A-kun’s grandmother, long ago a blind boy and girl were born in the area, and they were given to Goze-san. The boy was handed over to another group, but the girl lived her life out as Goze-san. The bell was used quite frequently back then, but afterwards it became something that was only used to summon Goze-san.
At dinner that night, I tried bringing the topic of the bell up. My father worked for the town hall, so he’d apparently heard about it, and the moment I said the words “Goze-san’s bell” they both looked at me in surprise.
“Goze-san’s bell?” my father repeated.
“Where did you hear that?” my mother said.
“From A’s grandmother.”
“No way, so it’s true? That windy thing?” my father said.
“I heard about it when I was a child too,” my mother agreed.
According to my parents, the bell really was used to summon Goze-san. But it could only be done when a blind child was born. There were times where it was difficult to raise children in poor villages, and the number of mouths to feed had to be reduced. Apparently when a child was born to a family that couldn’t feed it, they’d crush the child’s eyes and then ring the bell. The trip with Goze-san might be tough, but in a time of little joy, the destination was treated far more importantly.
Before long, those parents unable to poke out their own children’s eyes left them by the bell for Goze-san to take away. Of course, most of them froze to death first. The chief monk found countless children frozen to death by the bell, so he wrapped their clothes around the pillars of the shed in mourning.
Before long, people started to claim they could see the spirits of children around the bell, or that they could see lines of them following Goze-san. On windy days they’d cover their ears and complain that all they could hear was the sound of the bell driving them crazy. And so, using the clothes of the children left behind by the bell, as well as straw rope, they wrapped it around and around the bell so that it could never ring again.
When my parents were kids, their parents often told them that if they did something naughty that they’d have Goze-san take them away, or scream that they’d ring Goze-san’s bell, yet they didn’t once think that any of it could have been true.
Quite a bit of time has passed since that incident, but it has made me think again.
The Goze-san that once existed long ago must no longer exist. While there might be people passing the legend down, the real Goze-san is now gone. No matter where you look in Japan, you won’t find Goze-san and his line of children following him.
But that night, those guys who tried to steal his bell accidentally rang it. Did Goze-san actually show up then? If so, where did he come from? And if he did, where did he take them? The police claimed that they got scared and ran away, but, what if…?