Japan changes name of Iwo Jima island

Japan has changed the name of Iwo Jima island, famous for the massacre of the World War II, to traditional one used by locals who are dissatisfied with the modern moniker used in movies like Clint Eastwood's recent "Letters from Iwo Jima."

The island's name has officially reverted to Iwo To, which has the same written characters and meaning - "Sulfur Island" - but is different when spoken, the Japanese Geographical Survey Institute has decided.

The name change was approved Monday by a joint geographical naming committee meeting between the survey institute and Japan's coast guard, an institute statement said.

An official map with the new name will be released Sept. 1.

Up until World War II, the island was called Iwo To by the 1,000 or so civilians who lived there, and by others on nearby islands about 1,120 kilometers (700 miles) southeast of Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean.

However, the civilians 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.

Civilians were not allowed to return after the war, and the island was put to exclusive military use by both the U.S. and Japan, cementing its identity.

Former residents and some nearby islands' current inhabitants took action in March, after the release of Eastwood's twin films "Letters from Iwo Jima" and "Flags of Our Fathers" spotlighted the misnomer on the global stage.

"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 in March.

Ogasawara, the municipality that administers Iwo To and neighboring islands, adopted a resolution making Iwo To the official pronunciation.

Area residents and Iwo To evacuees' descendants 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 led to this revision."

Today the island's only inhabitants are about 400 Japanese soldiers.

The 1945 battle for Iwo Jima - epitomized by the famous photo of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on the islet's Mount Suribachi - 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 carrier