Thursday, July 03, 2008

'Manhunt' in Japan for tourists who left graffiti on Florentine cathedral

A few initials scratched on one of Florence's famous buildings set off a hunt for the culprits on the other side of the world - and highlighted the vast cultural differences between Italy and Japan.

Italian media yesterday recounted - in tones of wonder, bewilderment and admiration - the fate meted out to Japanese tourists who left their names or initials scrawled on the stonework of the city cathedral's panoramic terrace.

But so many Italians and other tourists do the same thing that, as a cathedral official, Paolo Bianchi, acknowledged: "We have staff whose sole job every day is to rub out pierced hearts, declarations of love and travel graffiti."

In a nation whose prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is busy giving himself blanket immunity from prosecution, no one would dream of taking the matter further. But when a Japanese holidaymaker photographed a series of graffiti in his own language, it unleashed what the daily La Repubblica termed a "manhunt" involving appeals for information in two of Japan's biggest newspapers, on national television and in online forums.

One of the guilty, who left her initials and the name of her university, at Gifu, in Japan, was soon traced. She and two fellow students have since been given two-month suspensions and may yet return to Florence to remove the graffiti. Their university offered to pay damages to the cathedral, which the cathedral authorities politely refused.

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