The Japanese priest was in his back office preparing for the day’s prayers when a panicked worshiper alerted him to a bizarre discovery: a straw doll that looked like Russian President Vladimir Putin was nailed onto the sacred tree of the 200-year-old shrine.
Perplexed, Takeo Takahashi in Tokyo’s neighboring Chiba prefecture took down the doll, which was bound together with red yarn and impaled with a sturdy nail. Inside, he found a piece of paper that included Putin’s name, date of birth, and the ominous phrase, “Pray for the obliteration of evil.”
Since May, straw figurines that look like Putin have been found in multiple locations across Matsudo city of fewer than 500,000 residents. The dolls, often used to place a curse on someone, have been exasperating priests who see their shrines as a sacred place of worship.
“When I was a kid I once saw a doll at a Shinto shrine, but I’ve never seen this many, and within the same vicinity,” Katsuaki Nose, a deputy police chief in the neighborhood, told VICE World News.
Right now, Nose said prefectural police have learned of about 10 dolls just within their city. He fears the neighboring towns could be next. “I’d like for this to stop,” he said.
Priests and the police suspect that the dolls are a product of the Japanese public’s anger at Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and hatred of the Russian leader.
In April, a poll found that 73.7 percent of the Japanese public supported economic sanctions on Russia for its atrocities in Ukraine. And an overwhelming 88 percent of Japanese voters believed Russian forces were committing war crimes in Ukraine, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun found in a poll conducted that same month. Japanese citizens have also taken their rejection of Putin to the streets, gathering by the thousands to protest against his actions.
Takahashi, the priest, said he understands the doll maker’s feelings. He wasn’t so much frustrated by the message toward Putin, but rather that the figurine was nailed onto his sacred tree.
“In Japanese shrines, there’s a designated sacred tree that’s said to possess divine spirits,” he told VICE World News. Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion that worships deities, believes a divine power can be found in all things, and shrines will block off said trees to avoid any meddling or damage to its roots. He was heartbroken that someone would damage a piece of property that held importance to the entire village.
“Some people are putting their sacred thoughts into these trees,” he said.