Artifacts Looted 80 Years Ago Repatriated to Okinawa

Fragile scrolls, royal portraits, various pottery and ceramics, and a 19th-century hand-drawn map were among 22 artifacts that had been missing from the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa since they were looted following the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. Yesterday, April 30, after almost 80 years, the stolen artifacts were officially repatriated to their homeland in a ceremony held at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum in Naha, the Japanese island’s capital city.

Dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, the collection of Okinawa cultural heritage was recovered in 2023 after a Massachusetts family, whose identity has been kept anonymous, issued a complaint to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Boston division.

“It was a family that was going through their deceased father’s personal effects, and they came across what appeared to be very valuable Asian art,” FBI Boston Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly, a member of the bureau’s Art Crime Team, explained in a video interview.

The family subsequently checked the National Stolen Art File and found that scrolls in the collection had been entered into the database approximately two decades ago. 

Enclosed with the artifacts there was “an unsigned, typewritten letter” detailing how the items had been collected and presumably looted from Okinawa in the final days of World War II, Kelly said. Investigators then compared all of the objects to black-and-white photographs of Okinawa’s missing antiquities, ultimately determining that they were a match.

Kelly emphasized that in this situation, the Massachusetts family “did everything right” by checking the national database of stolen art and immediately reporting the looted artifacts to investigators.

“It’s really important for us as stewards of artifacts and cultural patrimony to make every effort that we can to see that these go back to the civilizations and the cultures in the countries where they belong,” Kelly said.

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