Okinawa Artifacts Missing during WWII Return Home after Being Found in U.S.

Courtesy of the Okinawa prefectural government
A painting that is believed to be the “ogoe” portrait of King Shokei, the 13th monarch of the Ryukyu Kingdom

Cultural artifacts from Okinawa Prefecture that had been missing for nearly 80 years since the Battle of Okinawa during World War II were found in the United States and returned to the prefecture, the prefectural government said Friday.

These recovered artifacts include six paintings believed to be portraits of kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879). The portraits, known as “ogoe,” were thought to no longer exist. “These are historical artifacts of high value comparable to that of national treasures,” an expert said.

Although the ogoe were thought to have been lost in the war, they are highly likely to have been taken to the United States after the end of World War II, the prefecture said.

Two of the ogoe are scrolls measuring over 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters depicting a king in vivid clothing placed in the center and larger than surrounding people. The prefectural government has confirmed that the kings depicted in the two scrolls are the 13th monarch, King Sho Kei, who reigned from 1713-1751, and the 18th monarch, King Sho Iku, who reigned from 1835-1847.

In 2001, the prefectural government applied to register some of the artifacts with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Stolen Art File. In March 2023, the government was informed that they had been found. It is unknown how the paintings went missing and where they were found.

“Ogoe were drawn by court painters of the kingdom using top-grade techniques and pigments. These artifacts might help us more understand the kingdom and its art,” said Nobuyuki Hirakawa, a curator of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum specializing in the history of Ryukyu paintings.