Police investigate vandalism at Japan’s famous shrines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2017, 7:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 April, 2017, 10:27pm

Japanese police are investigating another outbreak of vandalism in which small amounts of an oily liquid have been used to deface some of the most famous shrines and temples in the country.

Oil stains were found this week in at least a dozen locations within the precincts of Tokyo’s Zojoji Temple, parts of which are designated as national important cultural properties and date back to 1622.

The viscous liquid was identified on the temple bell, the main gate and a stone statue.

The same day, similar oily stains were found on the gate of Meiji Shrine, one of the most important Shinto venues in Tokyo and with a long and close association with the Imperial family.

Over the preceding weekend, someone had deliberately squirted an oily substance at places within Shimogamo Shrine, a Unesco World Heritage site in Kyoto, while the main hall of Kimpusenji, a Buddhist temple in Nara Prefecture, was similarly defaced.

The episodes have immediately drawn comparisons with a series of almost identical incidents that commenced in 2015 and continued until November of last year. In total, police in 16 prefectures across the country looked into cases in which oil was sprayed or splashed on 48 temples or shrines, as well as Nijo Castle in Kyoto.

Japanese police declined to comment on the issue on the grounds that their investigation is still ongoing, although local media reported in 2015 that the authorities had issued an arrest warrant for a Japanese national who had founded a religious order in 2013 and claimed in sermons that “the pouring of oil guides people towards the truth”.

The man, who has not officially been identified, has since been abroad and developed a following in the United States, Taiwan, Turkey and the Philippines.

According to the Mainichi newspaper, the man is also a doctor and specialises in infertility treatments and claims to have “met Jesus Christ personally”.

Police said they were able to identify the man through security cameras at a number of the sites that sustained damage - although he denied the claims in a statement through his followers.

Given that an arrest warrant is still outstanding, it appears unlikely that the man has been able to return, suggesting that someone with similar beliefs is carrying out the recent attacks.

“It is impossible to tell how these people think, of course, but it could be that these people are opposed to the traditional orthodoxy of established religions and their places of worship,” said Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer in communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

“Alternatively, it could be just that they are uncomfortable with traditional religions and want to make some sort of protest,” he said.

Japan has been the source of a number of religious cults in recent years, including Aum Shinrikyo, which released sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 and plotted to overthrow the government, as well as the Pana-Wave Laboratory, which predicted that the world faced annihilation due to electromagnetic waves and that the world would end in 2003.