Man Arrested Over Theft of Temple Statue in Nagano

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Officers carry the “Binzuru-san” statue to the Nagano Prefecture central police station in Nagano Prefecture on Wednesday afternoon.

NAGANO — Police have arrested a 34-year-old-man Wednesday on suspicion of stealing a popular wooden statue of holy man Binzuru Sonja from Zenkoji temple in Nagano City.

According to the police, Shintaro Morimoto from Mifune, Kumamoto Prefecture, is suspected of stealing the 83-centimeter-tall seated statue from the main hall of the Buddhist temple between about 8 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. on the day. He has reportedly admitted to the allegations.

Police were notified of the theft by a temple employee who noticed Wednesday morning that the statue had disappeared. A security camera captured someone wrapping the statue in what looked like a blanket and taking it away.

About two hours and 20 minutes after receiving the call, police apprehended Morimoto near a commercial facility in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. The statue was found inside a car.

The statue is loved by local people, who affectionately call it “Binzuru-san.” It’s believed that a person will be cured of illness or injury in a certain part of their body if they touch the same area on the statue.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Meishin Hayashi, senior priest of Zenkoji temple, speaks to reporters on Wednesday.

Before the arrest, senior priest Meishin Hayashi told reporters that the main hall had been locked during the night, and that it was opened at about 5:30 a.m. that day.

The employee saw the statue on the dais at about 8 a.m., following the regular morning sermon. However, it was gone 30 minutes later.

“I’m really surprised to hear that Binzuru-san was stolen,” said a 78-year-old man from Nagano City who came to the temple on Wednesday. “It’s like a symbol of Zenkoji temple.”

A 68-year-old woman from Shinano in the prefecture, who serves as a volunteer tour guide at Zenkoji, learned of the theft when she came to the temple to show a group of foreign tourists around.

“I’m glad it’s been discovered. But I feel pity for visitors today because they can’t touch the statue,” she said.

The statue has been replaced on the dais again when it is returned by the police. The temple said it will consider anti-theft measures, including reviewing its security system and installing more cameras.