Ekirei (駅鈴)

Ekirei is a bell provided by the Imperial Court to government officials who traveled on official business, under the ritsuryo system of ancient Japan.

It is believed to have been created along with ekiden-sei (transportation system) consisting of ekiba (horses for transportation of official travelers) and tenma (post horses) established by Kaishin no Mikotonori (the Imperial Reform Edict) which was issued by Emperor Kotoku on January 1, 646 (according to old lunar calendar), and government officials brought ekishi (or ninsoku (coolie, laborer)) and ekiba or ekifune into requisition by ringing this bell at umaya. Umaya provided one official with one ekiba accompanied by two ekiko, one of whom guided the horse with ekirei and the other guarded the official and ekiba.

The only actual bells that exist today are two ekirei of the Oki Province (about 5.5cm in width, 5.0cm in depth and 6.5cm in height) designated as the national important cultural property. These ekirei are stored and displayed at the Treasure House of the Oki Family, located next to Tamawakasumikoto Jinja Shrine in Okinoshima-cho, Shimane Prefecture and are maintained by Mr. Oki, who is Guji (chief of those who serves shrine, controls festivals and general affairs) of this shrine and also a descendant of Okinokuni no miyatsuko. However, there are still various theories concerning genuineness of ekirei of the Oki Province, and it is not clear whether they are genuine or not.