Iwo Jima sand souvenirs grate on Japanese sensibilities


The 1950 Hollywood war film, “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” starred John Wayne in the lead role of Marine Sergeant John Stryker, who is killed in action after leading the assault up Mt Suribachi. Wayne received an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

The film, produced by Republic Pictures, also included appearances by three survivors of the six servicemen who had actually taken part in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo of the flag-raising atop Mt Suribachi. As did the actual American flag that appeared at the film's end, on loan from the U.S. Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.

The scene shifts to June 2008. Hideya Yamamoto, the Washington bureau chief of the Sankei Shimbun, raises the U.S. government’s tendency to show insensitivity over Japanese concerns, such as its unilateral decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the main thrust of Yamamoto’s editorial concerns his dismay at finding containers of sand from Iwo Jima being offered for sale at the gift shop outside the Marine Corps Museum for $25. The relics include a certificate of authenticity attesting that the sand had been extracted by a high-ranking retired Marine officer who visited the island during a ceremony in observance of the battle’s 50th anniversary in 1995.

Yamamoto also found more Iwo Jima sand -- which claimed to have been extracted in 2005 -- being sold on a web auction site for over $100.

The island, which is administered by the Tokyo government, is populated by a small detachment of the Japan Self Defense Forces and limits visitors mainly to family members of deceased soldiers and the media. Its volcanic black sand, called “uzura seki” in Japanese, is regarded as consecrated soil, imbued with the blood of 20,703 Japanese servicemen who perished in the six week-long 1945 battle. (The U.S. suffered 6,821 dead and 19,189 wounded.)

“At the 50th anniversary ceremonies on the island, we saw some [American] veterans scoop up sand, but thought they were carrying it off as personal mementos,” says Kiyoshi Endo, chairman of the Association of Iwo-Jima Japan (, an organization of family members of servicemen who perished there. “Doing it for commercial purposes is another thing entirely.”

Speaking on behalf of AMVETS, Jay Agg told the Sankei his organization of U.S. military veterans supports the museum’s sale of Iwo Jima sand as a means of “conveying the battle’s history. But we can understand objections over the sale,” Agg went on to say.

Another U.S. organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was quoted as saying the museum’s sale of the sand was different from its being peddled from a street stall, and the sand could be regarded as “a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of both sides.”

Yamamoto cannot disparage the role the Iwo Jima battle plays in raising Americans’ patriotic sentiments. But as with differences over dealing with North Korea on the abductee issue, the sand controversy serves as another annoying example of this gap in the two nations’ sensibilities and awareness.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

To Japan

From The World

Subject Pacific WWII


You started it. You lost, get over it.

The Germans are keeping low profile on this, consider them as a role model.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And the USA started WWWIII by their actions in the ME. ;)

Just slower progress. WWII was done and dusted in 7yrs, the ME conflict will go on for a few decades more.

J/K of course, but history will tell.

P.S.: Remember Wars don't start or end with the shooting but they have a build-up and fallout prior/after the fighting.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Now before people start making arrogant and insulting posts like the first one above, let's get some things clear here.

Mr. Kiyoshi Endo, the chairman quoted above, clearly differentiates between sand taken as personal momentos, and sand taken to sell off on auction sites. Any sensible person would understand his viewpoint. This issue has absolutely nothing to do with who won, who lost, or any other irrelevant non issues. This is respecting the hallowed ground of those who fought and died on this most savage of places during WW2, Iwo Jima, both American and Japanese.

How would people here feel if a Japanese tourist or any tourist started collecting the oil drops from the sunken USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor and started hawking it on the internet, or anything else related to what is considered sacred to the memory of American troops throughout its wars? I bet those here who automatically criticize the likes of Mr. Kiyoshi and Mr. Hideya would then go ballistic and criticize them for making blood money off the lives of American sacrifice.

At least the American side here, while not totally agreeing to the objections, can understand the disagreement without disparaging it like some here.

Bottom line is, don't criticize the feelings of those who fought and died there, even if it is the Japanese side, if you have not personally done so yourself.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is pretty tasteless stuff. For once, I have to agree with rjd.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The world has an inexhaustible supply of sand. If there are Americans dumb enough to pay $25 a pop for the stuff, let's flood the market.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not sure what is going here.

Said that one of my hobbies is building model-kits and I often get asked by Americans to build the model of the "A-Bomb Dome". Now this is a kit/plastic model ONLY sold at the holocaust museum.

Most americans/service members want it after visiting the museum not to remember the glory of WWII but as a reminder of history. Same thing with "Grave for Frieflies" just things not covered in their history books.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have to agree with both Coligny and rjd_jr. Many Americans would go ballistic if something similar happened on the Japanese end.

That said, most wouldn't: just a very vocal, whiny minority. I don't take this seriously in the States, and I don't take it seriously here. This is not intended as disrespect for anyone's memories or ultimate beliefs, but there does have to be a point where you stop victimizing yourself over it.

The removal of NK from the list is a much bigger (and, frankly, relevant) issue. Don't trivialize it by complaining about sand.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

First, I landed first wave on Green Beach with the 28th Marines and I was witness to four members of E Company (who were part of the Forty Man Patrol) that put up the FIRST flag, I also contacted the Marine Commandant and caused him to bring in Watenhall and Marling to do a blow by blow acount of just what happened on Suribachi that day. Wetenhall and Marling did a book that named all those who actually put up the First Flag and four hours later in a flag exchange they also named just who took part in that billion dollar icon pictured by Rosenhall The original flag was lost for twenty years and later found by General Krulac in the property of Company E in Camp Pendleton. I brought home some fifty pounds of the black sands of Iwo Jima, which I gave to those Marines who attended a re-union of the 28th Marines (C Company) I also brought back pictures showing the Japanese finding the "Letters of the Veterans of Iwo Jima" and I also watched as the Japanese burned the mummyfied bodies of those Japanese who wrote these letters. I can be reached by e-mail at and I suggest for what was the real chronicle of this entire episode, you get the book IWO JIMA by Wetenhall and Marling. Incidentally, I still have about twenty pounds of the Sands of Iwo - It is sitting on my mantle in our home here in California I married a Okinawan girl 42 years ago and we have a Ryukyuan restaurant in the Sierra. All those who were involved in the flag incidents are now gone from this mortal coil. My visit back to Iwo Jima was in 1985 and I flew in from Okinawa. I Am now 87 years old.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


I understand and got no complaints with you or any other vet owning the sands. And I am not even american But I am against people selling the sands for profit, when neither the seller and/or buyer been there.

Said that japanese have a custom to collect water and sand from shores they visited. Again nothing wrong as it is for personal use, a memento.

For me this is not about Iwo-Jima but more about greed and turning a buck.

Even as a non-american but as a fellow ex-soldier I say thanks for your service.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sounds pretty Epic.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This has nothing to do with who won the war or who started it. This is about disrespecting a war memorial and the dead. I'm sure people would be up in arms as well if people were digging up Gettysburg, the Beaches of Normandy, or any other battle that is emotive to many people. I and apparently Mr. Yamamoto have no problem with veterans taking sand as a memento, but rather people taking advantage of a tragedy (the war and death, not so much the Imperial defeat) and making a profit.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Marion, I believe there is a huge difference between what you did and what is happening at the Marine Corps Museum. From what you posted, it seems to be that you have treated that sand with the honor that the Japanese wish bestowed upon it. Secondly, you were there. Pardon the cliche, but your blood (actually, I hope not), sweat and tears has mixed with that sand. By my way of thinking, you earned it. Picking some up for $25 bucks hardly qualifies. Lastly, thanks for the email address and moreso for your service

VR, Taka

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Serioulsy dude, on a scale from cool to totally farked up, selling sand from this beach is so minor it would'nt find his place. War is all about profiteering.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No I am not saying people don't go to war to make a profit, but rather that people shouldn't be trying to profit from a tragedy after it has happened.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To think that people don't go to war hoping to profit in some way is completely naive.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Leave the sands on the island where it belongs. Not on some old man's mantlepiece.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

First of all, to understand this issue you have to appreciate just how sacred Iwo Jima is to Marines and how much of symbolic and significant place it is for the USMC. I myself have collected a couple of film canisters-full of Iwo Jima sand on the two trips I've made to the island as did many other Sailors and Marines, but from what I could tell almost all of us were taking the sand back home as mementos for friends or family members who are/were Marines and specifically asked for the sand. I gave half of my sand to a Nam-Vet retired Marine who was a mentor to me during my teen years and was one of the reasons I joined the military. I used the other half of sand to fill a small hourglass which I keep on my desk as both a memmento and a constant reminder of the tragedy and horror of WWII which to me, being half Japanese and American, has a very personal significance. Having said that though, I think that if the sand is being sold regularly and/or institutionally at the museum shop then it's insensitive and inexcusable. I totally understand why a Japanese person would object to it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I suppose it would more to Japanese sensibilities to write your name on everything in site (according to recent news articles)... of course most of Iwo Jima was blown up, so not too many places to write names.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just when i didnt think it could get any worse..

Do you have a subject in American schools called "How to piss of every culture on the planet and stay ignorant about it"?

That people keeps mementos from their own experinces i have no problem what so ever with (except if its human remains..). I respect everyone that fought in wwII independent of nationality. All fought out of their own beliefes. There are no good and bad here. All sides did things they shouldnt have.

But to make a profit by selling this soil to military buffs ( even on ebay..) that i doubt could even point out the place on a map, comon thats just so lame. How can people NOT see it as a slap in the face not only to the japanese people but also the Americans that gave their lives over there.

Someone compared it to if some in japan would start selling the oil from sunken ships at pearl harbor and i so agree. If that would happen then the civil guards would surely mass up and go burn down chinatown since they most likely cant distinguish between Asian nationals. After that there would start flying around petitions to nuke New-Zealand as someone misstook it for Japan.

Still waiting for the American goverment to declare the japanese miniskirts as weapons of massdestruktion that need "dismanteling" But then again some Marines seems to have taken that on by themselves..

And NO im neither Japanese nor from a "terrorist" state im just tired of crap like this

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Fredrik2006...Your blind spot on this issue is as large as your obvious bias against the U.S. Agree, that this is insensitive. But, how is it any more insensitive than the Yasakuni Museum glorifying the "heroes" of Pearl Harbor, and justifying their actions based on some perceived U.S. provocation? Both acts denegrate the value of the lives lost by the respective countries. Granted, selling the sand for profit is completely tasteless. But, with respect to cultural insensitivity, they are virtually identical. Do you think the folks at Yasakuni give a rat's a@@ if their display would offend the average American? If you do, think again.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've got some sand to sell ya all. Wanna know where it's from?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Actually you picked a really bad comparison there jerseyboy.. You are getting into one countrys history vs another and that my little friend is going into deep water. One countrys heroes are mostly the other countrys villans if they are on opposing sides in a conflict. Quite logical isnt it?

The people behind the pearl harbor attack became heroes because they did a great thing for their country at the time Same goes for the people behind the raising of the flag at Mt Suribachi I expect that they are not considered heroes in Japan instead.

About the U.S. provocation you write about History is a floating document dictated and modified by a countrys leaders. So dont expect it to be the same everywhere you go. Especially if its two opposing sides. I would suggest that you put some time into reading a few different history books and make up your own mind and you will see that the truth might be somewhere in the middle.

So draging in historical views into this will make it a neverending story "cultural insensitivity" as you call it will be found everywhere.

But here we have something material thats been regarded as consecrated soil by a Goverment and shouldnt be disturbed. So removing it is in fact stealing ( though as it said in the text, veterans were allowed to take some as a memento) But by selling it your actually selling stolen property, which if im not misstaken is a crime atleast where i live.

Here is an example: you ask at the house next door if you may have an apple from their garden and you get it,lucky you -OK- you sneak in and steal alot of apples and then go out selling em -BAAAD-

If you want to continue this conversation feel free to mail me on my username+

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Unfortunately, Japan Today has misquoted AMVETS on the issue of reselling sand from the beaches of Iwo Jima. Below is the original response to Mr. Yamamoto's inquiry:

Mr. Yamamoto,

Thank you for your thoughtful question. I will assume you are inquiring about the "Iwo Jima Sand Print" being sold by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation here:

I can understand how some people, especially veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima, might object to sand from the site of this historic battle being packaged and sold for profit as souvenirs. Initially, the thought raised ethical questions in my mind, as well. However, in this instance, very small quantities of sand are being sold through the National Museum of the Marine Corps with proceeds directly supporting Marine Corps historical programs. I have personally visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps, and was exceedingly impressed by the extraordinary care the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation has taken to ensure accuracy in the finest details in representing every period of U.S. Marine Corps history. In particular, the story of Iwo Jima is retold with painstaking care to honor the veterans of both sides of that conflict. AMVETS supports the continued sale of the "Iwo Jima Sand Print" in as much as it helps bring to life the story of Iwo Jima for patrons of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, and furthers the mission of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

Jay Agg National Communications Director AMVETS National Headquarters

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Isn't there something against the law about transporting soil from one country to another?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Urufuls - Yes there is. Transporting soil and other organic matter across international boundries is closely regulated by the customs and quarantine authorities of each country.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's all about SAND.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kindly be aware the Flag flying on Suribahi was an American flag and Iwo Jima was ours by right of conquest - We could take any sand home as it was ours. I also was given permission to have my remains strewn over Iwo Jima when I "bought the farm." I was to be cremated in Okinawa and the Futenma Air Group were to dump my ashes when they carried on their patrol. However President Nixon and PM Sato agreed the Volcanos were to be returned to Japan and my appeal for strewing my ashes had to be done through permission from the Prime Minister of Japan. I will probably be entombed in Okinawa in the family tomb, but after I am dead I will have no more to say and I am sure my wife will have the last say.

I also note that Teru Sensei (The teacher) refers to me as an old man, I guess that beats being a dead young man, but remember, I started in Guadalcanal - up the slot to Vella La Vella and Bougainville and then finally to Iwo Jima - and years later I spent six years in Vietnam, Today my son is a Professor of a Japanese University and yes, today I am just a little old man who has wonderful memories of being a United States Marine Corps

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sale of the sand grated on one man's sensibilities, according to the article. The bureau chief of the Sankei Newspaper. He took it as one example of US insensitivity.

I guess if I found an official Hamas or Hezbollah shop selling containers of 'genuine' certified dust from Ground Zero for 25 bucks a film canister, then I might also feel a grating on my sensibilities.

The difference is that the US is the sole world super power, necessitating Noblesse Oblige; assume a humble posture or expect to get hit by those looking for a target.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sir I am not surprised that Iwo Jima sand is for sale It is again the '..American bull in the China shop..' Demo Americans ( some ? ) have a habit of riding rough shod over Japanese dento... Sometimes I think America sees Nihon as a Poor cousin...

Michael san

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The sand of Iwo Jima belongs to the USA. It was bought with thousands of American lives. Japan should be ashamed of it's involvement in WWII, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the slaughter of thousands of Chinese, Koreans and Americans. Japan has no right to complain.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I find it very interesting the intrigue accorded the volcanic black sands of Iwo Jima while a Robert Barefoot has hauled away tons of the coral calcium sands of Okinawa, to be sold all over the world. I am sure he paid for it.

Meanwhile, I named Arnold Shapiro as the person behind the monument erected to commemorate the movie "The Sands of Iwo Jima" and Google immediately connected Shapiro (A Jew) with the holocaust.

Shapiro - Barefoot -- what's in a name?

I was there when the monument was dedicated on Iwo in 1985 and I did read what was inscribed on the granite monument, but I just can't eemember what was written; ddoes anyone have a copy of that message?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The sand of Iwo Jima belongs to the USA. It was bought with thousands of American lives.

Then perhaps the sands of the West Coast belong to Spain, or even the Native Americans. By saying such a statement you insult America by insinuating that America fought a war not just to stop Japanese militarism but also to conquer land.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

okay, where in the world do they get that selling the sand from Iwo Jima conveys the battle history? its not like the sand can talk. and America has a wonderful book relating the history of the flagraisers and the battle and many other books as well. selling sand does nothing for history except go in the history of your pocketbook.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

e8istanf, we should be ashamed as well for nuking two of their cities. americans shouldnt take sand (why sand of all things, i do know thats all there is left on Iwo Jima, but still...) just to sell. for personal momentos, i could understand that. to sell? never. japan has every right to feel indignant because of this. they also should hate us for the a-bomb.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

they also should hate us for the a-bomb.

should we hate them for pearl harbor?

<strong>Moderator: Back on topic please. Posts that do not refer to the sands of Iwo Jima will be removed.</strong>

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the selling of the sand is an insult not only to Japan's war dead, but also to America's as well.

Also, people need to remember that not all the Japanese who served in the Imperial forces were crazy warmongers, many were just poor farmers, and university students who were drafted into a war they did not believe in. Same thing happened in Europe too.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Marion, according to Wikipedia, the plaque reads:

"On the 40th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, American and Japanese veterans met again on these same sands, this time in peace and friendship. We commemorate our comrades, living and dead, who fought here with bravery and honor, and we pray together that our sacrifices on Iwo Jima will always be remembered and never be repeated."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

should we hate them for pearl harbor?

most people probably do. a friend of mine read this article and agrees selling the sand is wrong.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

True, thousands of bravemen died at Iwo Jima in defense of a cause they believe in. But taking sand/soil/ or whatever from a consecrated place like Iwo Jima for the purpose of commerce is tacky and without respect for the dead. And for those that say well Iwo is the USA's paid for with blood. I say then why aren't Normandy Vets doing the same in France? Why is it that we trample on these islands in the Pacific and desecrate the land and the sunken ships in their harbors and yet we wouldn't dream of doing the same in Italy and France?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"I say then why aren't Normandy Vets doing the same in France?".

Do you know for a fact they aren't/haven't? But if they have (just if, I don't know) maybe the people from those other countries don't mind or ... maybe haven't found out. And even if they found out, would they mind?

As Kiyoshi Endo stated in the article, to do it as a memento is acceptable, but to do it for commercial purposes is not, a comment I agree with.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What about those of us who weren't able to make it to Iwo Jima that day(the sand was collected), whose family members fought in that battle? Are we not allowed to buy a memento from a museum because someone is offended? My family has a long history of military service, and I for one would like such a memento as a reminder of their sacrifice. The $25 fee the museum charges is to cover the cost of the certificate, the container, and to give a little to the museum so they can stay open and continue to open people's eyes to history. The people who sell the stuff on ebay or what have you, at $100 (a hefty profit), are awful and should be ashamed. Good on the Marines for giving the Americans they serve a peice of tangible history.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

pressure could easily be put on Ebay to stop selling Iwo Jima sand. And others could flag Ebay sales of said product.

Not everything is meant to be bought and sold. =a hard ideal for some to learn it seems.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Let the quote from the momument on Iwo Jima, as provided by maninjpn, be the last words reference those silly remarks alluding to the "Sands of Iwo Jima."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I visited Little Bighorn years ago, the USNPS had a policy that prohibited vistors from taking anything (flowers, stones, dirt, etc) from the park. Im embarrassed to see that we dont hold this true for all battledields.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What about those of us who weren't able to make it to Iwo Jima that day(the sand was collected), whose family members fought in that battle? Are we not allowed to buy a memento from a museum...

Families like yours should be able to apply somehow to Japan through the US military to get a memento, a much more respectful way of collecting the sand than buying it off of ebay or even the museum.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites