Japan 'Statue of Liberty' replica looking for new home

A replica of the Statue of Liberty is looking for a new home after being evicted from outside a shop in a historic Japanese port city following complaints from neighbours who branded it an eyesore.

The six-metre (20 foot) statue was lifted by a crane onto the rooftop of the two-storey fish shop on Thursday after a ceremony led by a Shinto priest, according to Japanese media.

"We will keep it there for the coming months when we are busy. But we will erect it again next year where it may not cause any trouble to anyone," Yoichi Kitamura, the statue's owner, told AFP by telephone Friday.

Kitamura, a wholesale crab dealer, had bought the steel statue from an Internet auction and installed it as a "landmark" in front of his new shop in Hakodate, in northern Japan.

The store is on a famous slope dotted with old buildings bearing testimony to the history of the city, one of three Japanese ports opened in 1859 to foreign trade after the country's isolation.

Neighbours were quick to demand the city order Kitamura to remove the statue.

City officials decided the statue broke conservation rules protecting the historic townscape of the area, which is home to an Orthodox church and other missionary buildings, and advised him to move it.

But Kitamura insisted it was installed for the right reasons.

The second floor of the shop is open for uses such as karaoke, Japanese chess and concerts for residents in the neighbourhood, which has an ageing population, he said.

"We installed a Statue of Liberty as a landmark after creating a place for free activities. But it is sad that the city is too narrow-minded to understand it," he said.

Television footage showed messages left on the statue by tourists such as "Don't tear it down" or "I pray it will remain there."

"Tourism is declining in Hakodate and I had thought the statue could be an ideal catalyst," he said. "It will be surely standing somewhere next year."

The original Statue of Liberty in New York, a French gift to commemorate the centenary of US independence, has spawned replicas and commercial copycat versions around the world.

In Japan, a bronze Statue of Liberty, authorised by the French government, stands on a landfill in the port of Tokyo. A fibre-reinforced plastic statue was built in 1990 in Aomori to mark the fact that the rural region is at the same latitude as New York.

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