Sometimes it’s not how much you steal, but where you steal it from that really gets you in trouble.

Outside of sites that have significant historical or architectural importance, most Shinto shrines in Japan don’t charge admission. However, you’ll want to have at least a little money in your pocket if you’re visiting one, since it’s customary to make a small monetary offering while saying a quick prayer before the shrine’s altar.

The offering doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. A single five-yen coin (worth about US$0.04) is a common choice (since the Japanese words for “five yen,” go en, are pronounced just the like word goen/”prosperity”). Since few individual visitors donate more than 100 yen, you don’t bother handing the money directly to a priest or shrine maiden. Instead, you simply toss it into a collection box, like the one seen here.

Most shrines leave their collection boxes outside, allowing worshipers to make donations at any time of day or night. This means that in any given town in Japan, there are boxes of cash with whatever money has been donated during the night sitting unattended until the shrine staff comes in to work the next morning.

Knowing this, 55-year-old Masakazu Eguchi, an unemployed man living in the city of Futtsu, Chiba Prefecture, went to a local shrine early on the morning of November 13, where he broke into the collection box. However, it apparently hadn’t been a very busy night, spiritually speaking, for the citizens of Futtsu, and Eguchi’s heist only netted him 30 yen (US$0.27) in coins.

▼ The 100 million-yen Kyoto home invasion robbery of 2010 this was not.

Still, stealing is stealing, and Eguchi was arrested shortly before 6:30 by a police officer who caught him in the act. Some might say that’s a draconian application of overwrought justice, considering Eguchi hadn’t even stolen enough to buy himself one of Japan’s cheapest yet most delicious frozen treats. It’s important to consider why there was a police officer hanging out at the shrine so early in the morning, though. Prior to Eguchi’s arrest, the shrine’s collection box had recently been robbed twice, and the officer had been posted at the shrine under the assumption that it was only a matter of time until the thief came back for a third theft.

Reports don’t indicate whether Eguchi has admitted to the first two robberies, but he does admit that he was robbing the box on November 13, saying, simply, “I wanted money.”

Given the small amount of monetary damage Eguchi caused (excepting any possible repair costs for the collection box itself), it’s unlikely he’ll face harsh punishment for his actions. Still, in a country where crime is taken so seriously that you can get arrested for stealing a (as in one) grape, it’s always a good idea to avoid taking things without asking.

Source: Chiba Nippo via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
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