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Japan — Thieves preying on temples

Thursday 19 August 2010

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Alarmed at the theft in March of a Buddhist statue created 1,000 years ago that is designated a national important cultural property, the Agency for Cultural Affairs set about finding out how many similar incidents had occurred.

It discovered that at least 105 Buddhist statues, Jizo deities and shrine dogs had been stolen from temples and shrines across the country between fiscal 2007 and 2009.

It was the first such survey by the agency.

Many of the stolen objects are not designated as important cultural properties by the central or local governments.

The agency alerted local boards of education, which are responsible for the protection of cultural properties.

The theft in March was of the Seated Image of Dainichi Buddha, a wooden statue dating from the late Heian Period (794-1185). It was discovered missing from a warehouse at Konyoji temple in Nose, Osaka Prefecture.

Of the 105 missing statues, 20 were stolen in fiscal 2007, 40 in fiscal 2008 and 45 in fiscal 2009, the agency said. By prefecture, Wakayama had the highest number of cases at 20, followed by Shiga Prefecture with 13, Gunma and Shizuoka with 11 each, and 10 respectively in Nara and Kyoto.

Of these, two are designated as national important cultural properties and nine are designated as prefectural or municipal cultural properties.

The remaining 94 are not protected by law or ordinance, the agency said.

The stolen objects included a bronze statue of Nitta Yoshisada, a legendary warrior in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), in Gunma Prefecture and parts of centuries-old statues of leaders of the Ashikaga Shogunate (1338-1573), in Kyoto Prefecture.

In many instances, such cultural objects are sold to antique dealers, the agency said.

Items that are not designated as having particular cultural merit are likely being stolen by people who need money, said Nara prefectural police officer Kohei Nakaue, who is in charge of crimes against cultural assets.

"These items are often stored at temples and shrines which are unmanned," he said.

Source: asahi

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