Dispute over the name of the Sea of Japan

From Academic Kids


Missing image
A Map of Quan-Tong or Lyau-Tong Province and the Kingdom of Kau-li or Corea, T. Kitchin, London, 1753, reprinted 1780; it shows the "Sea of Korea".

J. Thomson: Corea and Japan. London 1815. At the middle of 19th century, the "Sea of Japan" was nearly common already.
J. Thomson: Corea and Japan. London 1815. At the middle of 19th century, the "Sea of Japan" was nearly common already.

The name of the marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, bound by the Japanese islands of Hokkaido, Honshu and Kyushu and the Russian territory of Sakhalin island on the east, and the Korean peninsula and Russia on the west, is disputed. It is commonly referred as the Sea of Japan, but North and South Korea currently campaign for the term East Sea.



This sea is called by various names including "Sea of Korea", "Sea of Corea" or "Sea of Japan" on maps earlier than the 18th century. After the 19th century, "Sea of Japan" appears increasingly. Today the sea's official international name is "Sea of Japan" (according to the UN), but this is under continued discussion.

In Japanese the water is called Nihonkai (日本海); in Chinese Rběnhǎi (日本海). The Russians call it Япо́нское мо́ре. All these translate into Sea of Japan. In South Korea the sea is called Donghae (동해; 東海) which translates into East Sea derived from classical Korean maps. The Korean government uses this expression in all their English publications. In North Korea the water is called Chosŏn Tonghae (조선동해; 朝鮮東海) which translates into East Sea of Korea.

Since the 1990s, the two Koreas have campaigned separately to change the sea's official international name. Neither the United Nations Conferences on Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN) nor the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) have accepted so far their claims.

Missing image
Japan and Corea, T. Tallis, in The Illustrated Atlas, London 1851; it shows the "Sea of Japan".

Some international and media organizations, however, have begun using the names Sea of Japan and East Sea together under pressure from the South Korean government. This might also be caused by a general trend to use local names, since this is often considered politically correct. These actions have prompted a backlash in Japan, and the issue has not been resolved to the satisfaction of any of the three countries involved. The French Navy, which once used the term "East Sea", has now reverted back to the "Sea of Japan" without citing any reason.

South Korea and North Korea claim that the names "East Sea" (South) or "East Sea of Korea" (North) should be the sole international name, or at least equal with "Sea of Japan.” They insist that the term "Sea of Japan" is a reflection of Japanese imperialistic ambitions. They also claim that the name "East Sea" has historical precedents and that it should be restored.

Japan opposes these names and claims that the name "Sea of Japan" is the sole international name for the body of water. Japan insists that renaming or showing both simultaneously runs counter to the spirit of geographic standardization and will be a troubling precedent. To counter Korean claims, Japan argues that the term Sea of Japan was originally named by Westerners and became the de-facto standard before Japan gained commercial and political influence in the region. Japan also claims that the name "East Sea" cannot be an international geographic name because such a common name refers to various places including the neighbouring East China Sea.

In addition, although "East Sea" for South Korea shows the "Sea of Japan", "East Sea" for Japan shows the "Pacific Ocean".It induces confusion not in Japan and South Korea but in the world.

History of the dispute

Missing image
The Sea of Japan is supported with the map of 97.2% of every country in the world.

At a 1919 meeting of the International Hydrographic Bureau (later became the IHO) to officially change the internationally acceptable names of bodies of water, Japanese delegates submitted the name Sea of Japan as the official name of the sea. At the time, the name had already been the de facto international standard. While less common names such as "East Sea", "Sea of Korea", and "Oriental Sea" existed, Korea could not participate during these talks because it was under Japanese colonial rule.

In 1928, Limits of Oceans and Seas, the first edition of the guideline by the IHB adopted Japan Sea with many other geographic names.

In 1992, South Korea raised the issue at the 6th UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographic Names (UNCSGN). Japan objected and the issue was not addressed.

In 1995, South Korea deleted Japan Sea from its official nautical charts. Before then, South Korea's nautical charts showed both Japan Sea and Tong Hae (the then used romanization of Donghae), out of respect for international conventions.

In 1997, South Korea raised the issue again at the 7th UNCSGN and Japan opposed. The issue was not addressed but the resolution III/20 (adopted by the 3rd UNCSGN in 1977) is recollected, which urges Japan and South Korea to reach a consensus. To date, however, neither country is willing to compromise their position.

In 2002, South Korea raised the issue again at the 8th UNCSGN. Japan objected again and the issue was not addressed.

In 2002, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) distributed a circular letter asking for a vote for omitting pages containing the Sea of Japan from the fourth edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas. After Japan's objection, the IHO withdrew the letter.

A volunteer Korean cyber-organization (VANK), began an aggressive e-mail campaign. They targeted webmasters insisting that Sea of Japan is a shadow of the colonial period and thus its use on the site was inappropriate and racist.

Some companies and media have responded to the dispute by either adapting both names on maps, or leave the area blank until a consensus can be reached between Japan and Korea.

On April 23, 2004, the United Nations affirmed the principle that it will continue using the name "Sea of Japan" in its official documents to refer to the body of water encircled by Japan, the Korean Peninsula and Russia, with the Japanese government in a written document. However, it has agreed to leave the topic open for further discussion.

Japanese opinions

Missing image
With the map published in France in 1803, it was written as the "Sea of Japan".

The dispute elicits many diverse opinions reflecting different views.

South Korea claims that the "Sea of Japan" was established generally after the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. However, generally the Sea of Japan was already in use during the 1800s in Europe and America.

Japan was closed to outsiders from 1631 to 1854, and it had no international power at that time. The "Sea of Japan" is not related to Japanese imperialism at all for the above reason. This view is proved by investigation of the old map of the British Library and University of Cambridge, and the France national library.(see[1] (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/maritime/japan/study.html))

There are people who argue that the name of a water has nothing to do with its ownership. Following this line of thought, the claims for renaming a body of water are pointless. Since the name Sea of Japan is established, some people think renaming is an unnecessary complication. After all, there are efforts to standardize geographical names. Furthermore, the name "Sea of Japan" is almost exclusively used in international shipping and commerce, which many people argue makes it the de facto name of the body of water.

Other argue that the name "Sea of Japan" is, in fact, related to ownership because it was the Japanese delegates who submitted the name when Korea was a part of Japan.

Some argue that the suggested name East Sea only makes sense to Koreans and is thus not suitable. Some Japanese argue that Sea of Japan is not Japan-centric since the Japanese traditionally name places/roads after the direction they lead to and from looking from Korean peninsula, it would lead to Japan. Consequently, some claim the name Sea of Korea would be more suitable. Koreans also counterargue that a naming confusion should not be an issue since one of Japan's own regions, Chugoku, can also mean "China", and this would imply that Japan is applying a double standard.

Missing image
J.Pinkerton which is a British geographer is the map announced in 1809, and announced this ocean space officially, saying the "Sea of Japan" which was common those days.

Japan's surveys show that, out of the specified Japanese selection of maps, various names including Sea of Japan, Sea of Korea, Oriental Sea were used, but that no term was dominant until Sea of Japan became the de facto standard in the early 19th century (see: [2] (http://www1.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/GIJUTSUKOKUSAI/nihonkai/suii_eng.htm)). They counter Korea's survey, as there is no old Western map that shows the exact wording, East Sea.

Asians in general have traditionally named surrounding seas with their respective directions: for Koreans in particular, they are: Namhae (South Sea) for East China Sea, Donghae (East Sea) for the Sea of Japan, and sometimes Seohae (West Sea) for the Yellow Sea. They were vaguely used internationally and their boundaries were ambiguous. It is uncertain when Donghae was first perceived as the equivalent of Sea of Japan. At the end of the 20th century Donghae was translated into English and the use of East Sea began. Koreans also sometimes call the Yellow Sea West Sea. The government uses Yellow Sea and thus have never made a claim against China. Japan criticizes this as a double standard. However, Koreans reply to these allegations by arguing that the Yellow Sea's name was never disputed.

In China, the East China Sea is referred to as Dong Hai (東海/东海, pinyin dong1 hai3; Wade-Giles Tung Hai), literally meaning East Sea. The name Dong Hai has already been registered as East China Sea in The Limits of Oceans and Seas published by the IHO.

The Vietnamese name for the South China Sea is Bien Dong (Biển Đng), which literally means East Sea. They also use East Sea in English.

The Baltic Sea is named ‘East Sea’ in some European languages: German Ostsee, Dutch Oostzee, Danish stersen, Swedish stersjn, Norwegian stersjen, Finnish Itmeri.

Eastern Sea
Eastern Sea

Japan is a special case. The Japanese names Saikaido (literally: West-sea-route) and Tokaido (literally: East-sea-route) both refer to the Pacific coastal regions of Japan, west and east from Kyoto, respectively. Saikaido is now obsolete, but Tokaido is still in use. Tokai (東海) today indicates the coastal region around Nagoya and Shizuoka, in other words, the Pacific Ocean coast instead of the Sea of Japan coast.

An official name for a geographic feature is sometimes translated into other languages. This could lead to more name collisions if East Sea became official. This is sometimes countered with reference to a general trend to use local names, such as Milano rather than Milan for the Italian city.

South Korea is requiring that the name of the "Sea of Japan" should be changed with "East Sea." Moreover, in the change process to Tokai, it is demanding to make it at least "Sea of Japan/East Sea." And the resolution of UNCSGN and the technical resolution A4.2.6 of IHO are cited as the basis.

However, "East Sea" is a very new name which was created in the 1990s when South Korea began to raise it internationally for the first time. It differs from examples, such as the English Channel, which has a long history internationally. This resolution A4.2.6 is not applied to the name already used all over the world as a single name like the "Sea of Japan."

For the above-mentioned reason, Japan is opposed to changing the "Sea of Japan" into "East Sea". Moreover, Japan claims South Korea is distorting history. Japan is opposed also to the broad interpretation of a resolution of an international organization.

Korean opinions

Koreans claim historical precedents to justify the name "East Sea". A study of a large collection of old maps in the British Library dating back to the 18th century revealed that out of 90 maps which gave a name to the sea between Korea and Japan, 72 referred to the sea as "Sea of Korea" or "East Sea" (almost all "Sea of Korea", few "East Sea" maps. See Historical Maps below).

Koreans argue that from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century "Sea of Korea" and "Sea of Japan" gained wide acceptance and became the names most frequently used by cartographers. It is worth noting that as late as 1870 even many Japanese maps referred to this body of water as the "Sea of Chosen (Choson)", literally referring to the "Sea of Korea" since Choson is the ancient name of Korea. In addition, "Oriental Sea" was also used to designate the "Sea of Japan" in pre-19th-century maps (see: [3] (http://www.korea.net/issue/eastsea/map_app1.asp)), where the sea is variously labelled either in English as Oriental Sea or Sea of Korea, or in French or Latin in equivalent terms.

In Korea, Japanese imperialism is blamed for the insistence on Sea of Japan. This goes hand in hand with the accusation that the Japanese distort history to support their current view. It is clear that it was the Japanese who named the Sea of Japan, contrary to what Japanese rightist groups claim. This has also led to international organisations led by Korea questioning Japan's insistence on the name "Sea of Japan", since Japan would not have a reason to object to a change in the sea's name if it did not standardize the name itself.

Other opinions

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) technical resolution A.4.2.6 (1974) is frequently referenced by this dispute, although it only gives general guidance. The resolution A.4.2.6 serves for IHO's own purpose.

It is recommended that where two or more countries share a given geographical feature (such as a bay, a strait, channel or archipelago) under different names, they should endeavour to reach agreement on a single name for the feature concerned. If they have different official languages and cannot agree on a common name form, it is recommended that the name forms of each of the languages in question should be accepted for charts and publications unless technical reasons prevent this practice on small scale charts.

Note: this quotation is not from the original text but a Korean web page [4] (http://www.kois.go.kr/issue/EastSea/map_c1.asp). It may not be a literal quotation.

The United Nations Conferences on Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN) resolution III/20 (1977) is also frequently referenced by this dispute. Only most careful readers would notice that the resolution III/20 applies to what is under the sovereignty of more than one country. Neither country has sovereignty over the sea.

The Conference, that the Resolution 25 of the Second United nations Conference of the Standardization of Geographical Names be reworded as follows. The Conference, Considering the need for international standardization of names of geographical features that are under the sovereignty of more than one country or are divided among two or more countries,
  1. Recommends that countries sharing a given geographical feature under different names should endeavour, as far as possible, to reach agreement on fixing a single name for the feature concerned;
  2. Further recommends that when countries sharing a given geographical feature do not succeed in agreeing on a common name, it should be a general rule of international cartography that the name used by each of the countries concerned will be accepted. A policy of accepting only one or some of such names while excluding the rest would be inconsistent in principal as well as inexpedient in practice. Only technical reasons may sometimes make it necessary, especially in the case of small-scale maps, to dispense with the use of certain names belonging to one language or another.

Historical maps (investigation by South Korea)

According to the Korean government [5] (http://www.kois.go.kr/issue/EastSea/map_c2.asp), numerous historical maps indicate that Sea of Japan was not how this area was named before the 19th century. Many of the maps, showing names such as "Mar di Corea" or "Sea of Korea," are available for online viewing at the University of Southern California's online archive (http://www.usc.edu/isd/archives/arc/libraries/eastasian/maps.html).

Historical maps (investigation by Japan)

Missing image
As a result of investigating the notation of the map published in the past performed in France, many maps expressed the "Sea of Japan".

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan investigated about how the name of the Sea of Japan region is indicated in the map mainly published between the 16th century and the 19th century in Europe among the maps which the France national library possesses from October, 2003 to January, 2004.

According to the Ministry, the name "Sea of Japan" was established in European maps from the beginning of the 19th century. The results of study of 1,495 maps possessed by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and published between the 16th and 19th century show that of 407 maps for which a name was recorded, 249, or 61% bore the name "Sea of Japan" and 60, or 15% bore the name "Sea of Korea." No maps were found that bore the name "East Sea." [6] (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/maritime/japan/study-2.html)

South Korea claims that the "Sea of Japan" was established generally after the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. However, the Japanese investigation found that the Sea of Japan was already widespead in the 1800s. Of the maps published in the first half of the 19th century, 90.0% or 99 maps bore the name "Sea of Japan," and of the maps published in the latter half of the 19th century 100% or 105 maps bore the same name.

See also

External links

  • East Sea Map Study (http://www.korea.net/News/Issues/issueDetailView.asp?board_no=350&title=East%20Sea%20Map%20Study) - by the Korean Overseas Information Service
  • Sea of Japan (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/maritime/japan/) - Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs defends the use of Sea of Japan.
  • East Sea in World Maps (http://www.korea.net/News/Issues/issueDetailView.asp?board_no=349&title=East%20Sea%20in%20World%20Maps) - world maps displaying East Sea or similar names.
  • Naming of "Japan Sea" (http://www1.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/GIJUTSUKOKUSAI/nihonkai/index_eng.htm) - The Maritime Safety Agency of Japan introduces the justification of the Japan sea(Sea of Japan).
  • East Sea or "Sea of Japan"? (http://www.korea.net/News/Issues/issueDetailView.asp?board_no=348&title=East%20Sea%20or) - www.korea.net provides a collection of articles to argue in favour of using East Sea.
  • The Sea of Japan and Koreans (http://www.geocities.co.jp/WallStreet/4076/index.en.html) - defends the use of Sea of Japan and states other places that could claim East Sea.
  • Koreas unite against Japan (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2196868.stm) BBC News, August 16, 2002 - outlines the dispute
  • A sea by any other name (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4487578,00.html) Guardian, August 23, 2002 - outlines the dispute.
  • New Trends in Identification of the East Sea (http://www.kois.go.kr/issue/EastSea/map_c1.asp) - outlines trends in the naming of the sea from a Korean perspective.
  • Eastsea.org (http://www.eastsea.org) - a collection of old maps of the area by a Korean professor.
  • Henny Savenije, "Korea through western cartographic eyes." (http://www.cartography.henny-savenije.pe.kr/index.htm): cartographic history

ja:日本海呼称問題 ko:동해의 이름에 대한 분쟁 es:Disputa sobre el nombre del cuerpo de aguas entre Japn, Rusia y las Coreas


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