“The island’s residents protected the statue for centuries,” Takarabe said. “My mission is to meet with senior officials of the cultural heritage entity and convey their feelings.”
The Tsushima board of education said Takarabe in late April launched a campaign to collect residents’ signatures and that as of Tuesday, more than 16,800, or half the island’s population, had signed the petition.
The seated statue, designated an important cultural property by Nagasaki Prefecture, has remained in South Korea following a provisional ruling by a district court in the city of Daejeon.
An inscription indicates the statue was made in Korea in 1330 at Buseoksa Temple in what is now Yeongju, North Gyeongsang province. The board of education said it may have been sold to Kannon Temple when anti-Buddhism movements began spreading on the Korean Peninsula in the 14th century.
A South Korean temple, however, claims the statue was plundered from the peninsula by Japanese pirates between the 13th and 16th centuries.
Last February, the Daejeon District Court said that the statue should not be returned to Japan until it is confirmed that the temple on Tsushima acquired it lawfully.