Stolen cultural treasures from Japan found in Massachusetts attic

Written on 03/19/2024
Mark Milligan

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have announced the recovery of 22 cultural treasures from Okinawa, Japan, which were discovered in an attic in Massachusetts, United States.

In January 2023, Special Agent Geoffrey J. Kelly from the FBI Boston Field Office was notified of a cache of Asian art discovered in a private residence. The residence had belonged to a deceased WW2 veteran, whose family stumbled upon the treasures while sorting through their father's belongings.

Working with the National Stolen Art File, the FBI recovered 22 artefacts of cultural value, including six painted scrolls from the 18th-19th centuries (which were already on file at the National Stolen Art File), a 19th century hand-drawn map of Okinawa, and various pieces of pottery and ceramics.

Also found was a typewritten letter that proved that the cache was looted during the final days of WW2 when important treasures and documents of the Ryukyu Kingdom (AD 1429–1879) were taken during the Battle of Okinawa.

Kelly explained that these artefacts were especially important because they depict Okinawan royalty—and serve as pieces of cultural identity. "A nation's cultural identity is really summed up in the artefacts and the history.”

“This is what makes a culture. And without it, you're taking away their history. And the surest way to eliminate a culture is to eliminate their past. And so, it's really important for us as stewards of artefacts and cultural patrimony to make every effort that we can to see that these go back to the civilisations and the cultures in the countries where they belong,” added Kelly.

The National Museum of Asian Art assisted the FBI in ensuring that the objects were properly packaged for transport and repatriation to Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, where an official handover to Denny Tamaki, the Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, took place.

“This case highlights the important role the public plays in recognizing and reporting possible stolen art,” said Jodi Cohen, special agent in charge of FBI Boston. “We’d like to thank the family from Massachusetts who did the right thing in reaching out to us and relinquishing these treasures so we could return them to the people of Japan.”

Header Image Credit : Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Sources : FBI - FBI Boston Recovers and Returns 22 Historic Artifacts to Okinawa, Japan