FBI returns looted artifacts found in Massachusetts attic to Japan

The FBI has returned a trove of looted Japanese art to its country of origin after a family found a stash of artifacts in their late father’s Massachusetts attic.

The family of a deceased World War II veteran contacted the FBI after discovering the items, which they determined to be “very valuable Asian art,” while sorting through his personal effects. The man had never served in the Pacific theater, according to the FBI.

The artifacts were later returned to Japan. - FBI
The artifacts were later returned to Japan. - FBI

“There were some scrolls, there were some pottery pieces, there was an ancient map. They looked old and valuable,” Special Agent Geoffrey J. Kelly, art crime coordinator for FBI Boston and a member of the FBI Art Crime Team, said in a statement.

“And because of this, they did a little research and they determined that at least the scrolls had been entered about 20 years ago in the FBI’s National Stolen Art File.”

Among the items were six 18th-19th-century painted scrolls, an ornate 19th-century hand-drawn map of Japan’s fifth largest island, Okinawa, and pottery and ceramics that included plates, bowls and teapots.

Among the items was a hand-drawn map of Okinawa - FBI
Among the items was a hand-drawn map of Okinawa - FBI

When unfurled and studied at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C., the scrolls showed colorful portraits of Okinawan royalty.

A typewritten letter found alongside the artifacts in Massachusetts helped confirm they were looted during the last days of World War II, the FBI added.

“When taken together, they really represent a substantial piece of Okinawan history,” Kelly said of the artifacts.

“A nation’s cultural identity is really summed up in the artifacts and the history,” he said.

“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 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 added.

The artifacts were returned to Okinawa last week, the FBI said, but noted that several Okinawan objects are still missing and are listed in the National Stolen Art File.

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