Local temple rebuffs Korean monks’ visit over stolen statue

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
March 15, 2013

Wonu, a South Korean monk, speaks at a news conference in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, on March 14 in front of the miniature figures he had intended to give the Kannonji temple. (Tatsuro Kawai)

Wonu, a South Korean monk, speaks at a news conference in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, on March 14 in front of the miniature figures he had intended to give the Kannonji temple. (Tatsuro Kawai)

TSUSHIMA, Nagasaki Prefecture–South Korean monks trying to patch up relations over a Buddhist statue stolen from Tsushima’s Kannonji temple got the cold shoulder when they visited the island on March 14.

The metal statue of the Kanzeon Bodhisattva, deity of mercy, was stolen in October 2012. It is listed as an official tangible cultural asset by Nagasaki Prefecture.

The statue was later confiscated in South Korea, but Buseoksa temple in Seosan filed a petition with a local court for an injunction to block its return to Japan because of questions about its origins.

Wonu, a 45-year-old monk from Buseoksa temple, and five other people visited Tsushima. They brought a set of three miniature female figures sold as the temple’s mascots along with a bronze Buddha statue made by an artist more than 20 years ago.

“We intended to give them to the temple as souvenirs. We wanted to offer our consolation,” Wonu said.

But the visit failed to mend fences, as the Kannonji temple refused to meet the South Korean visitors, saying, “(Their visit is) nothing more than a performance to justify their claim that the statue belongs to them.”

Sekko Tanaka, 66, former head priest of the Kannonji temple, said, “The gap between Japan and South Korea will widen unless they return the statue to us immediately.”

The Daejeon District Court blocked the statue’s return to Japan. A South Korean scholar said records show the statue was cast at Buseoksa temple in the 14th century.

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