Japanese Buddhist steals statues "to pray"

by Yoko Kubota, Reuters, Mar 3, 2009

TOKYO, Japan -- A Japanese man whose home was found packed with Buddhist statues told police he had stolen some from temples in the ancient capital of Kyoto so he could pray to them, domestic media said Tuesday.

Police found 21 statues of Buddha in the 59-year-old's house after he was arrested on suspicion of stealing a wooden Buddha figure from a temple in Kyoto.

"I stole this because of my devotions," a Kyoto police spokesman quoted Itsuo Abe as saying of the 70 cm, early 17th century statue, which belonged to Kenninji, a Zen temple founded in 1202.

"I like Buddha statues. I took it home and prayed to it every day."

Police found the Buddha statues crowding a room in Abe's house, with apples and bananas placed in front of them as offerings, the Kyoto police spokesman said.

Several temples in Kyoto have seen their Buddha statues disappear in recent months. Domestic media reported Abe as saying that he also stole statues from two other temples in Kyoto.

"We felt as if 400 years of history was stolen," Kenninji official Zenyu Asano said.

"We all believed it would come back. We're all very excited."

Kenninji now has security officers patrolling its property. It also doubled the number of surveillance cameras to about 30 and set up infrared sensors, said Soseki Unrinin, a monk at the temple.