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'Peace Bell' to ring for former President Jimmy Carter's 98th birthday

The Japanese temple bell was originally supposed to be melted down for ammunition during World War II but instead became a symbol of peace

ATLANTA — October 1 marks President Jimmy Carter's 98th birthday, and to mark the milestone, the Carter Center and Friends of Japan will gather Friday to celebrate the president's commitment to peace with the dedication of the new Peace Bell Tower.

With its dedication, the bell inside will toll for the first time in years.

Originally cast in 1820, the bell now known as the “Peace Bell” hung inside the Shoganji Temple in Konu, Hiroshima, Japan, until World War II.

"It was originally along with all the temple bells of Japan supposed to be melted down for ammunition during World War II, and instead has become a symbol of peace between our two countries," Jessica Cork, chair of the Japan-America Society of Georgia, told 11Alive.

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Weighing more than five hundred pounds, the bell itself has taken quite a journey over the past 200 years. 

After escaping its fate in World War II, the bell ended up in England, where it resided for a time with James Tayler before it was re-discovered by his son in 1958. The Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta purchased the bell in 1985, and that July, Consul General of Japan in Atlanta Tadayuki Nonoyama and Hiromitsu Araki, Chairman of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Georgia, presented the bell on behalf of the Japanese community to President and Mrs. Carter to commemorate the construction of The Carter Center.

President Carter later traveled in 1990 to Japan to see the city of Konu and where the bell came from, returning again in 1994.

“It truly is just an extension of the friendship that we have with the city itself and our friendship with Japan,” Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander said.

The Peace Bell has been a fixture of the Carter Center for years, Cork explained, but it will take new prominence in a Japanese bell tower constructed specifically for the Carter Center grounds.

"Many parts of it are hand carved," Cork explained of the project. "It was shipped to Atlanta, and the same carpenter who built it in Japan was the one who came here with a crew to construct it."

Constructed from a 150-year-old Japanese cypress, the tower was crafted by Japanese carpenters from Konu. The tower, which took four months to finish, marks a celebration of the two countries' friendship and President Carter's efforts to strengthen Japan-American ties.

The Peace Bell Tower will also be readily available for passersby to visit.

“I hope they take away how something that could have been a symbol of war is actually a symbol of peace,” Alexander said. “And that we celebrate the Japanese-American friendship that we have and how history recreates itself in positive ways.” 

The tower, is also modeled after another bell tower in Konu. That tower holds a replica of the Peace Bell, the “Bell of Friendship.”

“Now we can see the friendship between Georgia and Japan in the concrete form like this,” Kazuyuki Takeuchi, Consul General of Japan, said, referencing the Peace Bell Tower.

Takeuchi said the temple bells are intended to stir the hearts of the people, and now this temple bell, too, will toll once more.  

“I think the bell feels very much honored,” he said. “Now it's here to ring and move the hearts of people of Georgia as well.”

The Peace Bell Tower project is a result of efforts by the Japan-America Society of Georgia and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Georgia, in cooperation with the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Atlanta, the City of Miyoshi, the City of Americus, and many community partners.

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