• Kyodo

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None of the prized “Sato nishiki” cherries of Yamagata Prefecture seem safe with the latest discovery Thursday that more have been stolen — this time from a statue of the man who cultivated the fruit.

The bronze statue of Eisuke Sato stands in front of JR Sakuranbo Higashine Station on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line in the city of Higashine. It depicts him holding a branch from a cherry tree.

Although the branch originally had a dozen bronze cherries hanging from it, two cherries, as well as a pair in the hand of a statue of a child next to Sato’s, were found to be missing June 30. On Thursday, another five cherries from the branch and all of its leaves were discovered missing, including the stainless steel stems, according to local police.

Officials at the municipal commerce and tourism division expressed anger at the vandalism, calling it a malicious act, as Sato is one of the city’s favorite sons. They added they would have security guards watch the statue at night to protect the remaining five cherries.

The latest theft is believed to have occurred sometime after 11 p.m. Wednesday, when a city official checked the statue, police said.

The area around Higashine is famous for its fruit orchards, but it has been hit by a series of thefts of Sato nishiki cherries in recent weeks. The vandalizing of the statue is believed to be a prank that was prompted by the fruit thefts.

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