Steps taken to stop theft of Buddha statues

The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 4, 2005

Saitama, Japan -- Buddha statues at unattended temples in Saitama Prefecture will be moved to museums or temples with resident priests to protect them from damage or theft. In mid-January, 10 Buddha statues were stolen from unattended temples in Honjo and Kumagaya and the prefectural Education Bureau wants to put a stop to this particular crime.

The bureau's Cultural Heritage Preservation Division said many unattended temples do not have the funds to install burglar alarms, resulting in weak security.

In many cases, community associations look after Buddhist statues at temples without resident priests. But unless they are designated as cultural assets, prefectural and municipal authorities do not provide subsidies, making it costly for community associations to install security equipment.

One such statue was a den-Yakushi Nyorai ryuzo, a Buddha believed to cure diseases, at an unattended temple in the Manaita district of Gyoda. The statue was moved to Zenryuji temple on March 10, 12 days before it became the first statue from an unattended temple to be designated a prefectural cultural asset.

The prefecture's policy is to put such statues on display in public museums and at temples with resident priests until adequate security measures can be taken at the temples where they came from. However, the statues will be returned to their original temples for festivals and other events.

An official of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Division said, "We hope the measure will stop sinful acts, such as theft."