NARA – Two temples and a shrine in Nara Prefecture on Saturday joined a list of religious and historical sites recently defaced by an oily liquid.
At Kasuga Taisha Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a staff member patrolling the grounds Friday afternoon found oily marks up to 10 cm long on the doors and pillars of a gate deemed an important cultural property.
At Toshodaiji Temple, another historic site, marks were found at about 20 places in seven of the complex’s buildings, including three national treasures and an important cultural property, police said Saturday.
Acts of vandalism were also reported at Fumonin Temple in Sakurai.
On Friday afternoon, the temple’s chief priest found liquid sprinkled on an offering box and tatami flooring.
Prefectural police are investigating the incidents as breaches of the law on protecting cultural properties.
The vandal typically splashes the oil-like liquid, which has no apparent color, onto wood or stone structures and sculptures, leaving them stained.
The Nara Prefectural Police said stains found at the structures in the prefecture, including at Hasedera, had a citrus-like odor, although they are still analyzing the substance. They suspect the same substance may have been used on seven temples and shrines in the prefecture.
“It’s difficult to take a sample from liquid that has seeped into wooden material of statues and structures for the purpose of analyzing it. You can’t scrape off the parts either,” one investigator said.
Although the government is calling for beefed-up security, it is difficult to fully prevent such wrongdoing because some sites allow easy public access, people familiar with the matter said.
“Cultural assets are treasures for not only Japanese people but the entire humanity,” an official of the Cultural Affairs Agency said, adding that vandalism to such assets is an impermissible act.
The agency has found that 12 national treasures and 27 important cultural assets were tarnished by greasy liquid. Many, including UNESCO World Heritage temples Todaiji and Toji, are in the prefectures of Nara and Kyoto, both home to Japan’s historic properties.
But it has newly come to light that similar incidents happened at Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture, Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Chiba, Katori Shrine in the same prefecture, Mishima Grand Shrine in Shizuoka, and Konpira Shrine in Kagawa.
With some sites that have not been registered as cultural properties, such as Nara’s Kashihara Shrine, also suffering damage, the agency is still unable to put together the whole picture of the series of the vandalism cases.
In the first case of the series, Kyoto’s Nijo Castle was apparently sprayed with machine oil. But most of the buildings targeted in March and so far this month show sweeping traces of liquid possibly thrown directly from containers.
To remove the oily spots, solvents will be used. But if the oil penetrates deep into the wood or stone, it will be difficult to completely eliminate, experts said.
Repair costs are to be shouldered by the owners of the properties in principle.
Besides the cost issue, there is also concern that the incidents will dampen local tourism by forcing the vandalized facilities to close temporarily.
“Human eyes are the best deterrent,” the agency official said, urging potential targets to seek support from local residents and ask visitors to notify staff members if they see suspicious acts.