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Failed talks over statue by Korean and Japanese Buddhist monks

By Jeong Nam-ku, The Hankyoreh, March 16, 2013

Japanese monks seeking return of Gwaneum Bosal statue, while Koreans say it could have been plundered from Korea

Tokyo, Japan -- Monks from Buseok Temple in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province, visited Kannon Temple on the Japanese island of Tsushima to discuss the issue of the Buddha (Gwaneum Bosal) statue, but the talks failed when Japanese Kannon Temple monks declined to meet.

According to reports by Japanese media including Kyodo News and the Tokyo Shimbun, a group including a monk from Buseok Temple named Wonu, another monk, and former lawmaker Kim Won-ung visited Kannon Temple but the monks there refused to discuss the issue. Later, the Kannon Temple monks were quoted in Japanese media as saying, “The statue of Buddha must be quickly returned.”

The Buseok Temple monks said that they had visited the Japanese temple to communicate the message that it would probably not be possible to return the statue, considering that it was believed to have been plundered from Korea and taken to Japan.

The Japanese government has also made several requests for the Buddhist statue to be returned. “We are asking the Korean government to return the statue of Buddha according to the bilateral agreement between our two countries,” said Yoshihide Suga, Japanese chief cabinet secretary, in a press conference. The position of the Japanese government is that, regardless of the circumstances through which Kannon Temple came to possess the statue, since it came into Korea after being stolen from Kannon, it should be returned according to the agreement governing cultural items.

The Buddhist statue was made at Buseok Temple in Seosan around AD 1330, but it was subsequently taken to Japan and enshrined in Kannon Temple. In Oct. 2012, it was brought back into Korea by thieves. When the Korean government nabbed the thieves and confiscated the statue, Japan requested its return.

However, in Feb. 2013, a Korean court issued an injunction forbidding the statue to be returned to Japan until such a time as a lawsuit confirms that Kannon Temple acquired the statue through just means.

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