Buddhist images stolen from temples

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb 8, 2009

KYOTO, Japan -- Eleven relatively small Buddhist images have been stolen from temples in Kyoto Prefecture since last year, it has been learned.

According to the Kyoto prefectural police, which said eight cases of theft had been reported in the last year, the crimes might have been committed by the same person or persons.

In October, Daihoji hall--situated in the west part of of Ninnaji temple in Ukyo Ward, Kyoto--suffered the loss of its principal image, which was made during the late Edo era (1603-1867). The hall is one of 88 holy sites on the Omuro pilgrimage route.

The theft was discovered when a visitor to the temple reported that the lock of the door to the hall had been broken.

The 20-centimeter-tall Juichimen Kannon, a statue of the 11-faced deity of mercy, is believed to have been taken in September.

Between 2000 and 2001, more than 40 Buddhist statues were stolen from temples along the pilgrimage route.

In September, Tojiin temple in Kita Ward, Kyoto, was robbed of parts of a statue of Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) the founder of the Muromachi shogunate (1338-1573), and a statue of Ashikaga Yoshiharu (1511-1550), the 12th shogun.

A statue of Bishamonten, also known as Vaisravana, was stolen from Bishamondo temple in the city's Yamashina Ward in October.

In December, Toji temple in Minami Ward was deprived of Fudo-myouo Ryuzo, an image that had been housed in Bishamondo hall on the premises.

There have been three reported cases this year, including the theft of a wooden image of Juichimen Kannon in Kenninji temple in Higashiyama Ward. All three artifacts measured about one meter tall and had been placed in easily accessible areas.

Images such as these are often sold to antique dealers and brokers. Some of the items are said to be sold overseas where there is a large market for Buddhist imagery.

Security cameras at Toji temple and Kenninji temple both captured footage of a masked man making off with an object on the day of the reported thefts, leading the police to investigate a possible connection between the crimes.