Call for action after teen vandalizes prized Japanese temple


The pillar in the «Golden Hall» at Japan’s Toshodaji Temple has been in place for centuries. But that didn’t stop a Canadian teenager from carving his name on it, prompting questions about what can be done to stop a wave of vandalism hitting the world’s treasures.

The word «Julian» in small letters was inscribed last Friday on the wooden structure built 1,250 years ago at the Buddhist site in the central city of Nara.

A Japanese tourist saw the 17-year-old writing his name on the wood with his fingernail and alerted staff who called the police, the country’s Kyodo news agency reported.

The teenager, whose name has not been released because he is a minor, was questioned but does not appear to have been charged with any crime. Had he been charged with damaging «important cultural property,» he could have faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 1 million yen, about $7,200.

«Such an act is certainly sacrilege, especially in Japan, where cultural norms repudiate such practices,» Ken Tadashi Oshima, a professor of Japanese architectural history at the University of Washington, told NBC News via email Friday.

The teenager carved «Julian» into a wooden pillar at Toshodaji Temple.NTV / via AP

Founded as a place for Buddhist worship in 759 by a Chinese monk, Jianzhen, of the Tang dynasty, the temple was the first in Japan dedicated to a Chinese Buddhist denomination, the Nanzan school, according to the temple’s website.

The Japanese government designated the temple a «national treasure» in 1951 and UNESCO added it to the World Heritage list in 1998, saying that along with other Nara historical monuments, including «Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the excavated remains of the Grand Imperial Palace, provides a vivid picture of life in the Japanese capital in the eighth century, a period of profound political and cultural change.

Odashi said it could be argued that the temple was as important as the Acropolis in Greece. “It is preserved as a living structure since it is made of wood,” he said. “This makes public awareness of its importance especially important to prevent other similar acts from happening again.”

NBC News has reached out for comment from the temple, where staff members were later filmed putting up signs in Japanese and English near the entrance that read: «Please do not damage the hall» and «You will be punished for violating the cultural property». Protection Law.”

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