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The Otari Bell

Otara (pronounced ‘Ottery’) is a large village in the Nagano Prefecture situated thing in the Japanese Alps in central Japan. Otari was part of the area chosen to hold the Winter Olympic Games in 1988. It was this seeking contacts internationally as part of its build-up to promote the Games.

In 1992 visitors from Otari came to Ottery St Mary to discuss the subject in detail and subsequently, in November of that year a small delegation came to watch the Tar Barrels and to attend a Dinner at which the formal establishment of a twinning arrangement was agreed. Subsequently the Chairman of the Town Council, Cllr Stuart, together with Cllr Brown was invited to visit Otari, all expenses being paid by the Japanese. On this occasion a format document of association was signed.

The following year, at a time then the new Ottery Hospital was being completed, Otari sent a gift of £7000 in order to create a Japanese Garden in the grounds of the hospital. Discussions then took place to agree upon an exchange of an artefact that would mark the formal twinning arrangement. It was then decided that this would be in the form of a traditional bell from each country.

Ottery St Mary located and purchased a church bell and made arrangements for it to be shipped to Otari; whilst Otari chose a traditional bell the be especially with words and symbols denoting the connection between the two communities. It should be noted that the dedication, which is displayed on a number of panels around the bell, should be read (in the Japanese style) from right to left in order to gain the proper meaning of the message.

The bell was originally displayed in a metal mounting outside the Council Offices in Silver Street but, following the move of the Council to the new site in Broad Street, the bell was relocated to Sainsbury’s where it has been mounted in a traditional wooden frame that shows the bell to its best advantage. Plaques giving a brief history of the bell in both English and Japanese are also sited by the mount as is a Japanese manhole cover that had been decorated in enamels in traditional style.

The bell is regularly viewed by visitors from overseas including Japanese folk who are in Ottery to attend the grave of Sir Ernest Satow, a British diplomat who played a substantial part in the re-entry of Japan into international affairs at the end of the nineteenth century. Sir Ernest Satow spent the last years of his life in Ottery St Mary, being at one time Chairman of the Council. A museum is dedicated to him in Yokohama, where he is venerated for his contribution in the formation of modern Japan.

Ottery St Mary Council, October 2011

15 February 2024
Last Updated
15 February 2024