Japanese priest seeks return of stolen statue in South Korean court

A Buddhist priest from Japan has asked at a hearing in South Korea for the early return of an ancient statue stolen from his temple 10 years ago.

Tanaka Setsuryo is the chief priest of Kannonji Buddhist Temple on the island of Tsushima in Nagasaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan. He appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday.

The figure of a bodhisattva in the lotus position was stolen from the temple in 2012 and later found in South Korea. The statue is now owned by the country’s government.

Buseok Temple in central South Korea, which claims ownership of the statue, has filed a lawsuit demanding that the government return it to the temple.
The temple argued in court that the figure had already been stolen from the Korean Peninsula by Japanese pirates in medieval times.

A court in the city of Daejeon in central South Korea in 2017 ordered the statue returned to Buseok Temple.

The government appealed the decision to a higher court.

Last November, a South Korean high court approved the Japanese temple’s participation in the hearings as a third party with interest.

Tanaka testified in court that Kannonji held the figure peacefully and publicly and that it belonged to the temple based on Japanese and South Korean civil law. He said the statue was stolen and illegally taken to South Korea, and he very much wants it returned to him as soon as possible.
Tanaka said legend has it that his temple received the statue from the Korean Peninsula in the 16th century.

In response, the Buseok Temple side demanded that Kannonji present proof that he received the statue legitimately.

Tanaka later told reporters that he said everything he wanted to say in court. He added that 10 years have already passed.

The next court hearing is scheduled for August 17.

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