Canadian tourist caught defacing ancient temple in Japan

A 17-year-old Canadian tourist was caught defacing a wooden pillar at a Buddhist temple in the Japanese city of Nara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The incident has caused outrage among Japanese people and lovers of culture and historical heritage. The incident occurred last Thursday, July 7th at the Toshodaiji Kondo temple complex, founded in 759 by the Chinese monk Ganjin, who introduced Buddhism to Japan.

Police said the teenager carved his name with his fingernail into one of the wooden pillars supporting the roof of the so-called “Golden Hall” of the temple, a 13th-century building that the Japanese government designated as a National Treasure. “On the pillars to the side, the boy carved ‘Julian’ on a wooden pillar about 170 cm above the ground with his nail,” a police official told CNN.

A Japanese tourist witnessed the act and asked the Canadian teenager to stop. He then alerted temple staff, who called the authorities. The next day, the police took the young man to a police station, where he admitted his responsibility and said he did not want to harm Japanese culture. His parents accompanied him, as they had also been at the temple when the act of vandalism occurred.

The boy admitted his act and says it was done not with the intent of harming Japanese culture.

Toshodaiji Kondo staff member

Defacements mar a wooden pillar at Toshodaiji Temple in Nara © Nara Perfectural Police

The police said they will continue to investigate the case and will send the young man to the Prosecutor’s Office if they prove that he violated the Law on the Protection of Cultural Property. For the time being the tourist has not been arrested.

A monk at the temple told the Mainichi newspaper that “although it was done without malice, it is still regrettable and sad.” He added that the damage caused to the pillar is difficult to repair and that the possibility of covering it with a plaque is being considered. Under Japanese law, anyone who damages an object of “important cultural property” can face up to five years in prison or a fine of ¥300,000 (around 1,800€).

This is not the only recent case of vandalism affecting a UNESCO historic site. In late June, a tourist was filmed carving names into the wall of Rome’s ancient Colosseum. He has been identified as a fitness trainer living in Britain, as reported by The Independent. The identification process was conducted by comparing images, the Italian police said.

The man wrote on one of the walls of the monument, using a key, the first names of the couple plus the year they were there, ‘Ivan + Hayley 23’. The episode was recorded on video, after another passing tourist recorded what was happening. According to The Guardian, the video was then posted on YouTube and eventually caught the attention of the Italian police who began a search for the man. The video, which went viral on Youtube, is titled: “Asshole tourist carves name in Colosseum in Rome.” The tourist later sent an apology addressed to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, the Mayor, and the City Council.


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