Ucluelet’s former mayor Bill Irving posed for this photo in 2013 with a small wooden statue he found on Long Beach. The statue was recently stolen from the Vancouver Aquarium but then returned.

Ucluelet’s stolen tsunami statue returned

A small wooden statue is living the good fortune it symbolizes.

A small wooden statue is living the good fortune it symbolizes.

The 20-centimetre-tall statue, which depicts Shinto God Daikoku holding a magic hammer to represent good fortune and a bag of treasure to symbolize wealth, keeps finding its way to safety.

It was discovered on Long Beach in 2013 by Ucluelet’s then-mayor Bill Irving and is believed to have floated to the West Coast from Japan after the devastating March 2011 tsunami.

“We cannot definitely prove that because it does not have a serial number or a registration number and there’s no way of tracing it back to somebody from Japan that could say, ‘Hey that’s my item,’” Ucluelet’s emergency and environmental services manager Karla Robison told the Westerly News.

“If you look at all the factors, all signs are pointed that it’s pretty likely that item came from Japan.”

She noted the statue was discovered on the same day, and about 50 metres away from, a 20-foot skiff that had washed ashore, which featured Japanese markings underneath thick layers of pelagic barnacles.

The markings were hard to identify but at least two Mediterranean mussels were growing on the vessel, which presented a strong case that the vessel had traveled from Japan.

The statue was displayed at various tsunami related events and demonstrations throughout Ucluelet before being loaned to the Vancouver Aquarium’s ‘Not Just Garbage’ marine debris exhibit, which opened on June 1, 2015.

In December, Aquarium officials were perplexed to discover that a thief had managed to unscrew a protective plastic casing and steal the statue, which is not believed to have any monetary value.

About two weeks after the theft, the statue returned to the aquarium as mysteriously as it had vanished and Ucluelet’s district office received a letter from aquarium staffer Kate Le Souef on Jan. 18 to relay the good news.

“When the Shinto statue was stolen, we posted a plea for help on the Vancouver Aquarium Facebook page. We had a lot of messages of sympathy and many people shared the post on our behalf,” Le Souef wrote. “Last Sunday [Jan. 10], a member of our security team walked past the exhibit and noticed a child playing with the statue in front of the exhibit. The statue must have been anonymously returned earlier that morning.”

Le Souef assured added security measures would keep the statue safe for the duration of the exhibit.

“Our team will be attaching the plastic bubble around the statue with additional fortification that would be very difficult to remove,” she wrote.

“After the incredible story of travelling from Japan to Ucluelet, and being stolen and now returned, it has huge significance for our team…We are excited to place the statue back on display to share the story of the Japanese tsunami with our visitors.”

Ucluelet has collected a wide array of tsunami debris artifacts that have been displayed locally as well as at the Maritime Museum in Victoria and the Vancouver Aquarium, according to Robison.

“We have those in safe keeping and we hope to donate those to the Ucluelet and Area Historical Society in the future for display so the public could benefit from observing these types of materials,” she said.

The items, which she calls driftage articles out of respect for their former owners, serve as important reminders of the March 11 2011 tragedy.

“Driftage articles may act as a stimulus to discussions regarding marine debris prevention and removal, the international connections that have been formed through the return of personal belongings, and the sharing of information from this unprecedented event,” she said.

“It is also hoped that that the display of driftage articles and return of these materials back to Japan may help to bring peace, fond memories and inspiration to the people of Japan and all those affected by the tragic event.  Perhaps future displays of driftage articles will act as a memorial to remind each country of our strong bond across the ocean, the many lives affected by the tsunami, and to be prepared for emergencies.”