”Just for that?” asks 70-something resident when presented with charges.

For a little over a month, straw figures called wara ningyo have been appearing at Shinto shrines in the town of Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, about 20 minutes east of Tokyo. Wara ningyo are essentially Japan’s version of voodoo dolls, and the ones in Matsudo were found nailed to the shrines’ trees with a spike driven through the effigy’s chest, in accordance with the traditional ritual for placing lethal curses on someone in Japanese folklore.

At least 10 wara ningyo have shown up in Matsudo, and all of them have the same target: Vladimir Putin. Whoever made the dolls attached a photo of the Russian president’s face to them, and inside of each was a hand-written note with Putin’s name, age, and birthdate written on it, as well as “Praying for his death.”

Such an dark yet archaic expression of resentment might have you imagining that it’s an edgy teen, maybe a second-year junior high school student, who’s been hammering up curse dolls all over town. According to investigators, though, it’s been about six decades since the perpetrator was in middle school.

The above video shows security camera footage recorded on the afternoon of Thursday, May 19 at Mikazuki Shrine, one of the shrines where a wara ningyo was found. After the elderly gentleman climbs the staircase leading up to the altar, he makes a point of looking around to see that he’s alone, and when he turns back around, a wara ningyo can be seen inside an open flap of his shoulder bag.

The man then respectfully makes a donation at the coin box and offers a prayer in the Shinto style, bowing twice, clapping twice, and bowing once more. He then scans his surroundings again, apparently not noticing the security cameras, before making his was around to the back of the shrine, where the tree is located to which a wara ningyo was later found nailed.

Performing a wara ningyo curse ritual isn’t illegal, but sticking nails in trees on private property counts as vandalism, and it appears that the one at Mikazuki where the doll was found was on a part of the grounds off-limits to visitors, so there’s an associated trespassing charge as well. After examining the security footage, investigators identified the man as 72-year-old Matsudo resident Mitsunobu Hino. When officers went to his house to place him under arrest for the charges, he incredulously asked them “Just for that?” It’s a reaction that, along with the video evidence of him carrying around a curse doll, doesn’t make him seem like the most innocent guy, but he then said he would make no further statement before speaking with his legal counsel. Given the similarity in the craftsmanship of the dolls and handwriting in their notes, police believe Hino was most likely behind the other wara ningyo incidents as well.

The respectful manner in which Hino offers a prayer at the altar in the video implies that, even if he was the one who nailed up the doll, his primary aim wasn’t vandalism of the shrine, but truly to put a curse on Putin. Oddly, though, according to legend wara ningyo curses are supposed to be performed between 1 and 3 a.m., but the security footage was recorded at roughly 2:10 in the afternoon, so perhaps a failure to adhere to proper ritual regulations is why Putin hasn’t dropped dead even after close to a dozen wara ningyo-based attempts on his life.

▼ It makes you wonder if every day Hino has been starting his day by checking the paper’s obituary listing, not seeing Putin’s name, and then grabbing a handful of straw and getting to work.

Though public sentiment in Japan towards the Russian leader is far from positive these days, Japanese Twitter users are largely disagreeing with using black magic/petty vandalism to express that anger, and also feel that someone of Hino’s age should be able to find a better way to do so.

“He’s a lot older than I expected the person behind this to be.”
“Act your age.”
“That guy must have a lot of free time on his hands.”
“Please don’t use the shrine for your curse rituals.”
“72 years old? Shouldn’t he know better?”
“Well, when you get up there in age, sometimes you start to act a little weird.”

If Hino is indeed the person who’s been hammering up the dolls, hopefully he’ll right his ways and start living a clean life, and not slip into more heinous crimes in his 80s.

Sources: FNN Prime Online (1, 2), Nikkan Sports, Asahi Shimbun Digital, Twitter (1, 2)
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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