Rollins College is sympathetic to a request to return a cultural artifact taken from Okinawa by victorious American Marines at the close of World War II.
But, President Rita Bornstein said, the small private school in this Orlando suburb has decided to keep the 3-foot-high bronze statue of Kinjiro Ninomiya right where it is: just outside her office.
The request for the statue of the 19th century Japanese philosopher was made by Shizuo Kishaba, president of the Ryukyu-America Historical Research Society in Okinawa. He is leading a campaign to recover souvenirs American personnel took from the Japanese island after the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, the last great U.S. amphibious campaign during the war.
Kishaba promised to give the college a replica and said he is circulating a petition and seeking help from the Okinawan government to get the statue.
"Our culture was in danger of being erased," he said in a telephone interview from Okinawa.
"The Okinawan people, in fact, have no interest in having it returned because it represents Japanese imperialism, and they want no part of that," Dr. Bornstein said Monday in a telephone interview from New York, where she was meeting with alumni.
"This statue was one of about 20 taken to Okinawa as a symbol of Japanese values" and the islanders are trying to wipe away vestiges of that era and nurture their own historical roots, she said.
Dr. Bornstein relied on a letter from Thomas Reich, the American consul in Naha, Okinawa, and other experts who have said the statue has no connection to Okinawan culture.
Another reason for a recent vote by the college trustees to keep the artwork, the Rollins president said, was that it was accepted in 1946 from an alumnus by then-college President Hamilton Holt, a respected internationalist.
Holt was a wealthy New Englander who edited a magazine and was active in the world peace movement that led to the formation of the United Nations. He was president of the liberal arts school from 1925 to 1949.
Holt placed the statue in a special marble niche he designed for it, declaring that it should rest there forever _ a request the Rollins board is honoring.
The Rollins alumnus was Clinton C. Nichols, a Navy lieutenant commander, who Dr. Bornstein said obtained the necessary legal documents from the military for possession of the statue and its presentation to the college.
The statue, which shows the philosopher as a youth reading a book while gathering firewood, "is a very appropriate symbol for an educational institution," Dr. Bornstein said.
But, she added, the college is still open to further discussion on the issue, particularly if the request would be to place it in a museum or other public place open to the public.
Kishaba said he wanted to place the statue inside a high school in the capital, which would not make it available to the people, she said.
"We are trying to do the right thing at Rollins," Dr. Bornstein said. "At this point, we have only spoken with one person in Okinawa, and we have no sense that it is something fervently desired by the government and by the people."