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Something that brings smile

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

If you have visited a shrine in Japan before, you probably have brought back one of those shrine-amulets as souvenirs or as lucky charms. If you traveled A LOT in Japan or have visited many shrines, I am sure ended up having A LOT of these amulets sitting somewhere in the house. They are just beautiful and difficult to resist.

But for the first time, a very humble-looking amulet caught our attention. First impression, they are so cheerful! (they are all smileys!!!) Second impression, they are functional (they rattle)!! It just touches your heart in a very different way, beyond the cuteness and the omikuji fortune-telling slip experience like the others. So we dig deeper to learn the history and making of them, and discovered how meaningful these smiling bells are to a small local farm community.

Japanese folk craft, clay bells, amulet, talisman, terra cotta craft, terra cotta art, ceramics

THE MAKER - Mr. Shinozaki and his family.

So we drove to the small hidden farm village called Soeda to find the one family that makes the clay bells. Soeda is at the foothill of the historic Hikosan Shrine. And it is about 30 mins drive from our potter friends of historic Koishiwara.

Mr. Shinozaki looks more like he is in his early to mid 70s but he is actually 87, turning 88 in 2023. He is so full of energy and cheerful, extremely passionate about making Hikosan Gara Gara for the Shrine and the local souvenir shops. And once you ask him to talk about the history, he immediately poised like a teacher on stage. (hence we captured his photo holding the garagara bells high up!) Prior to the pandemic, he received a lot of local primary school groups and hosted painting workshops teaching kids about the legend of the bells. He is getting busy again these days, as Hikosan is receiving more visitors and school groups once again as tourism resumes.

Japanese artisan, folk craft, Japanese folk craft, folk art, rural Japan, Hikosan Gara Gara, clay bells, terra cotta craft, Japanese tradition
Mr. Shinozaki telling us the history of Hikosan Gara Gara

The work of farmers is very busy, and gara gara bells are produced usually around Fall/Winter when work eases a little and when the bells will be in demand around New Year. It is not only the sole effort of Mr. Shinozaki; in fact, his family, and 10 or so other farmers from the village come together to help make various parts and the bells would be fired, tied and painted at the Shinozaki. Mr. Shinozaki becomes the Chief to ensure the legacy is protected and sustained.

gara gara, japanese bells, clay bells, Shrine amulet, luck charm

Hikosan Gara Gara has a rustic but simple aesthetic, and the wide "open-mouth" just exerts a fun positive energy. I hope you can also see beauty and positivity in this simple folk craftwork.

In Japan, the bell would be replaced with new ones in New Year, or when the owner believed it has helped to deterred a bad incident from happening. Isn't that similar to the concept of Native Indian's Dreamcatcher?

Spring will be arriving, soon. When you are doing your Spring cleaning, consider put up a gara gara to draw in good energy and ward off the bads in the year to come. Or just have something smile at you everyday. 😊


Best name ever, isn't it? Go read all about these smilies on our new page.



$5 OFF Hikosan Gara Gara (Expire 3/31/2023)

​Enter coupon code 5offgara at checkout.

​Limit one use per customer. While supply lasts.

​Get your Gara Gara ready for Spring!

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