South Korea must return Buddhist statue to Japan, Supreme Court says | ET REALITY


South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Buddhist statue currently in government custody must be returned to a Japanese temple, ending a decade-long dispute between temples in both countries.

South Korean thieves stole the 20-inch gilded bronze statue in 2012 from a Buddhist temple in Tsushima, a Japanese island halfway between the two countries. The incident added another dispute to contentious relations between the two countries, which have long argued over historical grievances.

The thieves were caught in South Korea while trying to sell the statue, which has been designated an important cultural property in Japan. but Buseoksa, a Buddhist temple in western Korea, claimed that the artifact was made there in the 14th century. The temple won a court order in 2013 preventing its return to Japan.

A legal battle ensued between Buseoksa and the South Korean government. The Japanese temple Kannonji and Tokyo were not part of the lawsuit, but demanded the return of the statue. There was no evidence that the artifact had been brought to Japan illicitly, Kannonji said.

In a 2017 ruling, a South Korean provincial court said the charter should be given to Buseoksa on the grounds that it had been taken centuries earlier by Japanese pirates. But in February, an appeals court ruled that the statue belonged to the Japanese temple because it had possessed it for long enough peacefully and publicly.

‚ÄčIn a final word on the matter, the Supreme Court said on Thursday that the current Buseoksa is probably the same temple where the statue was originally made. But he added that the rightful owner was the Japanese temple for the same reason cited by the appeals court.

Buseoksa called the ruling scandalous. “He basically legalized the looting of cultural property, saying that if you keep the loot long enough, it becomes yours,” Buseoksa’s head monk, Venerable Wonwoo, said by phone. “It means that if you lose something due to looting, you will lose it forever.”

The statue represents a bodhisattva known as Kanzeon in Japan and Gwaneum in South Korea.

Even after the statue is returned to Japan, Buseoksa said Buddhists in South Korea would continue their campaign to persuade Japan to return thousands of ancient artifacts they said had been taken centuries ago by pirates and invaders from Japan. .

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