Court orders Buddhist statue stolen from South Korea returned to Japan

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

The statue of seated Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. From

South Korea's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Japanese temple is the rightful owner of a Goryeo-era Buddhist statue that was stolen from South Korea and taken to Japan. The statue was later stolen from Japan by South Korean thieves in 2012, who were arrested while trying to sell it in South Korea.

At a news conference after the decision in Tokyo, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hideki Murai promised that the Japanese government would "urge the South Korean government to promptly return the Buddha statue" to the Japanese temple. (South China Morning Post)

Last week, the court rejected Buseok Temple's claim in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province, that it was first stolen by Japanese pirates in the 14th century and therefore rightly belonged to the South Korea. After thieves were arrested in South Korea, Buseok officials filed a lawsuit claiming ownership of the statue, sparking a decade-long legal battle over the statue.

The statue measures 50,5 centimeters (20 inches), weighs 38,6 kilograms (85 pounds), is gilded in bronze, and depicts a seated Avalokiteshvara bodhisattva. According to a written prayer found inside the statue in 1951, it was cast in 1330 with a blessing for the people of Seoju, present-day Seosan.


The region's history records a series of pirate raids between 1352 and 1381, leading experts to believe that the statue was transported to Japan around this time. From there, it was dedicated to Kannon Temple in Tsushima in 1526. It remained there until thieves stole it in 2012.

Buseok Temple won a first lawsuit claiming rightful ownership of the statue. However, a higher court ruled against them, noting that Buseok Temple had failed to prove that it was in fact Seoju Temple, during the Goryeo dynasty, where the statue was first enshrined. times.

The South Korean Supreme Court ruled that the temple was the correct temple. Nonetheless, they found that because the Japanese temple had owned it for more than 20 years, it was rightfully theirs, under a legal principle known as "adverse possession." (Hankyoreh)

In a statement released after the ruling, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said it respected the decision.

“Return procedures will be decided by our relevant agency in accordance with applicable laws and regulations,” a ministry spokesperson said. (Reuters)

However, a former head priest of the South Korean temple disagreed. Former priest Won Woo said: “Our Supreme Court has legalized armed and illegal looting. This is such a barbaric decision that we cannot accept it at all. (South China Morning Post)

The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, South Korea's largest Buddhist order, also opposed the court's decision in a statement released Thursday.

“We would like to express our deep regret over this decision. Recognizing wrongful possession of a blatantly stolen cultural object that has been looted and taken abroad is not only patently absurd, but may also encourage others to hide and retain possession of looted cultural objects,” said the largest Buddhist order in Korea. (Hankyoreh)

Learn more

South Korea's top court orders return of Buddhist statue stolen from Japan (Reuters)
Korean Supreme Court recognizes Japanese temple as owner of stolen Goryeo-era Buddha statue (Hankyoreh)
South Korea's highest court rules that a Japanese temple is the rightful owner of the stolen 700-year-old Buddha statue (South China Morning Post)
Ancient Korean Buddhist statue stolen from Japan should be returned: Supreme Court (Korea time)

Related news reports from BDG

UPDATE: Bronze Buddha stolen from Los Angeles gallery recovered
30 stolen antiquities repatriated to Cambodia from the United States
Stolen XNUMXth-century bronze Buddha statue returned to India
“Tree and Serpent” Exhibition Brings Buddhist Art to New York’s Met
Archaeologists discover China's oldest bronze Buddhist statues to date
Chinese court upholds decision ordering return of Buddhist statue of Patriarch Zhang Gong

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

Leave comments