Published June 20, 2007
| Associated Press
TOKYO – Japan has changed the name of the Pacific island of Iwo Jima to the original name of Iwo To given by locals, who have become disenchanted with the popularization of its modern-day moniker by such movies as Clint Eastwood's recently released "Letters from Iwo Jima."
The new name in Japanese looks and means the same as Iwo Jima — or Sulfur Island — but sounds different, the Japanese Geographical Survey Institute said.
The institute announced the name change on Monday after discussing the issue with Japan's coast guard. An official map with the new name will be released Sept. 1.
Iwo Jima was the site of the World War II battle immortalized by the famous photograph by Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press of Marines raising the American flag on the islet's Mount Suribachi.
Before the war, however, the volcanic island was known as Iwo To by the 1,000 or so civilians who lived there.
They were evacuated in 1944 as U.S. forces advanced across the Pacific. Some Japanese navy officers who moved in to fortify the island mistakenly called it Iwo Jima, and the name stuck. After the war, civilians weren't allowed to return and the island was put to exclusive military use by both the U.S. and Japan, cementing its identity.
Never satisfied that the name Iwo Jima took root, locals took action in March after the release of Eastwood's two films "Letters from Iwo Jima" and "Flags of Our Fathers" spotlighted the misnomer.
"Though we're happy for Iwo To, which has been forgotten by history, the islanders are extremely grieved every time they hear Iwo To referred to as Iwo Jima," the local Ogasawara newspaper reported at the time.
Ogasawara, the municipality that administers Iwo To and neighboring islands, responded by adopting a resolution making Iwo To the official reading. Residents and descendants of Iwo To evacuees petitioned the central government to follow suit.
"These people are now scattered nationwide and are not able to go back to Iwo To," said the survey institute's Mitsugu Aizawa. "These people have said that the place is originally called Iwo To and their claim lead to this revision."
Today the only inhabitants are about 400 Japanese soldiers.
The 1945 battle for Iwo Jima pitted some 100,000 U.S. troops against 22,000 Japanese deeply dug into a labyrinth of tunnels and trenches. Nearly 7,000 Americans were killed capturing the island, and fewer than 1,000 of the Japanese would survive.
The Americans occupied the island after the war, and returned it to Japanese jurisdiction in 1968. The U.S. Navy still uses an Iwo To airstrip to train pilots who operate from aircraft carriers.