FBI Boston
Kristen Setera
(857) 386-2905
April 30, 2024

Twenty-Two Historic Artifacts Repatriated by the United States to the People of Okinawa

At a formal repatriation ceremony on Tuesday at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum in Naha, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo returned 22 historic artifacts that were looted following the Battle of Okinawa and had been missing for almost 80 years.

The 22 artifacts, some of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, represent a significant piece of Okinawan history and include six portraits, (three of which were one piece and appear to have been divided into three pieces), a hand drawn map of Okinawa dating back to the 19th century, and various pieces of pottery and ceramics.

“We are immensely proud to have been able to recover and return these national treasures to the people of Okinawa, where they will remain an important part of their history and heritage for generations to come,” said Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “The FBI would like to thank the Massachusetts family who reached out to us and relinquished these artifacts, the Smithsonian Institute for ensuring they were properly packaged for transport, and our military partners for their help in securing and transporting them back home, making today’s repatriation a reality.

FBI Boston recovered the artifacts last year after a Massachusetts family (who wishes to remain anonymous) was sorting through their late father’s personal effects and came across what appeared to be very valuable Asian art. Their father was a World War II veteran, but never served in the Pacific Theater. In an effort to identify the provenance of the artifacts, they checked the FBI’s National Stolen Art File and determined that at least four of the items were missing 18th century portraits that had been listed in the database. Included with the artifacts was an unsigned, typewritten letter stating the items were collected in Okinawa during the last days of World War II.

The FBI conducted a logical investigation and was able to authenticate the artworks.

FBI Boston Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly, a founding member of the FBI’s art crime team who is retiring today after more than 28 years with the Bureau, said, “It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to have been a part of this investigation which resulted in the repatriation of these important cultural artifacts.  A nation's identity is intrinsically tied to their cultural patrimony, and I am very proud to have assisted in their return to the people of Okinawa.”

At today’s ceremony, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Philip Roskamp added, “We would like to thank Okinawa Prefecture and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for making this historic return possible, as well as the FBI for their investigation, the Smithsonian for their support, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for storing the artifacts, and the U.S. military who, in good faith, transported and escorted the items from the United States back to Okinawa. We at the U.S. Department of State are honored to have played a small role in the return of these irreplaceable cultural assets.”

The FBI thanks the National Museum of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institute for its help in properly packaging the artifacts. Additionally, the FBI would like to express sincere gratitude to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) 38 G Monuments Men and Women, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the U.S. Air Force for their assistance in transporting the artifacts to Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.

To learn more about the FBI’s recovery of these historic artifacts, you can watch this extended interview featuring FBI Boston Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly: https://www.fbi.gov/video-repository/boston-artifacts-kelly-031424.mp4/view

Anyone with information on stolen art and cultural property is encouraged to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). Tips may also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov.

Image Gallery

Select images for high-resolution viewing and downloading. Photos are courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.

Okinawa group photo at today's ceremony

Representatives of the Okinawa Prefectural Government and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the U.S. Mission to Japan marked the artifacts’ return with a small ceremony at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum in Naha on April 30.