Japanese Police Are Investigating a Canadian Teen After He Was Caught Defacing an Ancient Buddhist Temple

The 17-year-old, who is facing a hefty fine or up to five years in prison, said he intended no harm.

Located in suburb of Nara city, Toshodaiji Temple, designed and built by Chinese monk Jian Zhen in Tang Dynasty, has a China Tang architectural style and is identified as a national treasure of Japan. Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A Canadian teenager was caught carving his name into the UNESCO-listed Toshodaiji Kondo temple in Nara, Japan last Friday. The 17-year-old boy was questioned by the police after a Japanese visitor spotted him using his fingernail to write “Julian” directly onto a wooden pillar and reported him to temple staff.

“The boy admitted his act and says it was done not with the intent of harming Japanese culture,” a police official told CNN. “He is now with his parents, who were with him when the incident occurred.”

The tourist is still under investigation. If he is found to have violated Japan’s law for the protection of cultural properties, he will be referred to prosecutors and could be slapped with a fine of ¥300,000 ($2,140) or up to five years in jail.

The 8th century Buddhist temple was built in 759 and is one of eight Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, which was once Japan’s capital. It was founded by the Chinese monk Jianzhen and designed in the style of the Tang dynasty.

The vandalism is strangely reminiscent of a video that went viral last month in which another tourist is caught in the act of carving “Ivan+Hayley 23” onto the colosseum in Rome. Ivan Dimitrov, 27, a Bulgarian fitness instructor living in Bristol, reportedly begged Italian authorities for forgiveness after he was identified and learned that he could face a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of $16,000.

He later claimed not to have been aware of the Roman ruin’s importance, according to CNN. In a letter to the prosecutor, Dimitrov wrote, “I admit with the deepest embarrassment that only after what regrettably happened, I learned of the antiquity of the monument.” He remains under investigation and is reportedly hoping to reduce his punishment with a plea bargain.

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