The Bell of Nanban-ji is designated as National Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government. This Jesuit bell was made in Portugal in 1577 and used at Nanbanji Church.
Nanbanji Church was the first Christian church in Kyoto. In 1576, Jesuit Father Gnecchi-Soldo Organtino established this church with the support of Nobunaga Oda, who was one of the most powerful feudal lords and ruled Kyoto in the late 16th century. In the next eleven years, Nanbanji was the center of Catholic missionary activities in Japan. Also, this church became an important place for traders from Portudal and Spain.
In 1587, Regent Hideyoshi Toyotomi created a law against all Christians in Japan. Nanbanji was destroyed and was never rebuilt again. Following the anti- Christian policy of Regent Hideyoshi, the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity and systematically eliminated all Christians. Thus, the Bell of Nanbanji had vanished from the Japanese history till the bell came to Shunkōin about 200 years ago.
On the surface of the bell, three Jesuit seals were engraved. Those Jesuit seals contains a Christogram "IHS". "IHS" is derived from the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, ΙΗΣ (Jesus is ΙΗΣΟΎΣ in Greek). Also, "IHS" is connected with a Latin phrase, "Iesus Hominum Salvator ", or "Jesus, Savior of Man". In addition, "IHS" is sometimes interpreted as a another Latin phrase, "In hoc signo vinces", or "in this sign I shall conquer". Under a "IHS" Christogram, there are three nails on the Seal of the Society of Jesus. Three nails symbolize the Crucifixion of Christ. Also, Arabic numerals, 1577, were engraved on the surface.
This bell tells us about the history of Christianity in Japan during the 16th century and about the political and economic relationship between Japan and Europe, especially Portugal and Spain.