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Dispute over the name Sea of Japan

The body of water commonly referred as the Sea of Japan (Nihonkai or Nipponkai (日本海) in Japanese) is called the \East Sea (Donghae (동해; 東海) in Korean) in South Korea and the East Sea of Korea (Dongjoseonhae (동조선해; 東朝鮮海)) in North Korea. Since the 1990s, the two Koreas have campaigned separately to change the sea's official international name. In accordance with the 7th United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (1998) and the International Hydrographic Organization's Resolution A 4.2.6 (1974) regarding the naming of disputed bodies of water [1], some international and media organizations have begun using the names "Sea of Japan" and "East Sea" together [1]. 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.

Details of this issue were not widely reported in English-language journals of broad readership during the 1990s, and have only begun to be covered outside of East Asia in the last several years--often as the result of announcements of changes in naming policy. Many people outside of the region remain unaware of this highly charged issue, and continue to be unaware of the Korean names for this body of water.

This article describes the debate regarding the naming of the body of water and its historical background.

Table of contents
1 Summary of the dispute
2 History of the dispute
3 Stories on East Sea
4 Historical Maps
5 External Links
6 Editorial Notes

Summary of the dispute

South Koreans argue that the term Sea of Japan reflects Japanese imperialistic ambitions and see it as part of a larger campaign of getting Japan to own up to historical abuses foisted on Korea in the years before World War Two. They also claim that East Sea is the body's original name as used by European explorers.

Japan argues that the term Sea of Japan was originally named by Westerners and became the de-facto standard before she gained political influence. On the other hand, Koreans claim that variants of East Sea and Sea of Korea were widely used in early western maps. There is currently no resolution to this debate acceptable to both countries.

History of the dispute

At a 1919 meeting of the International Hydrographic Union to settle upon internationally acceptable names of bodies of water, Japanese (and then colonial Korea) delegate submitted the name "Sea of Japan" as the official name of the sea. (See " class="external">

South Korea contends that it has raised the issue since mid-1960s. (Details Wanted.)

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

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

In 1997, Korea raised the issue again at the 7th UNCSGN. The resulting UNCSGN resolution III/20 called on Korea and Japan to reach a consensus, however, both parties insist on compromise of each other and failed to reach a consensus.

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

In 2002, International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) once distributes a circular letter asking vote for omitting pages containing the Sea of Japan from the fouth edition of "Limits of Oceans and Seas". After Japan's objection, IHO withdrawn the leter.

(when ?) VANK, a volunteer Korean cyber-organization, began a aggressive e-mail campaign. They repeatedly sent e-mail until webmasters swallow VANK's demands. Their position is:

"Using a proper name for the body of water between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago is not simply a question of changing the name of a geographical feature. It is rather a part of national effort by the Korean people to erase the legacy of their colonial past and to redress the unfairness that has resulted from it."

Since the start of the Korean government's protest as well as VANK's email campaign, some companies have either adapted both names on maps, or leave the area blank until a consensus can be reached between Korea and Japan. Recently, some international organizations which had revised their maps have recovered the name.

Stories on East Sea

Koreans argue the name Eastern Sea or other similar terms was predominant in pre-19th-century maps, and contend that Japanese imperialism, compounded with their tendency to revise history and distort historical facts, have given rise to the current appellation of Sea of Japan. In addition, they argue that the Sea of Japan was designated in pre-19th-century maps as "Sea of Corea" and "Oriental Sea." (See, where the sea is variously labelled either in English as "East," "Eastern," or "Oriental Sea" or "Sea of Korea," or in French or Latin in equivalent terms. However, note that some 19th-century maps show "Eastern Sea" on the East China Sea, and some maps label the East Sea/Sea of Japan as "Sea of China")

Asians in general have traditionally named surrounding seas with their respective directions: for Koreans in particular, they are: namhae (south sea), donghae (east sea) and seohae (west sea). They were vaguely used 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.

The equivocality "East Sea" has made it almost impossible to become an international geographic name. Koreans assert that "East Sea" means east of the Asian Continent. What is located to the east of the Asian Continent is not only the Sea of Japan but also the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and these seas are called "East Sea" by Chinese and Vietnamese respectively.

In China, the East China Sea is referred to as "Dong Hai" (東海, 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 IHO.

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

Japan is a special case. Japanese names Saikaido (West-sea-route) and Tokaido (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 land region around Nagoya and Shizuoka. It is worth noting that for the Japanese people the word for "East Sea" indicates the other side of the Sea of Japan. It is one of the reasons that Japanese strongly oppose the name "East Sea." Confusion is an obvious result if both sides of a nation are called by the same name. But in fact however it is not an uncommon situation. In Japanese, the western region of Honshu is called Chugoku (中国), which also means China.

An official name for a geographic feature is translated into each language. It is obvious that if the name "East Sea" were to become official, name collisions will occur in many languages. The North Koreans demand "East Sea of Korea". This leads to several questions: What will happen if Madagascar renames the Indian Ocean to "East Ocean", Australia proposes "West Ocean" and Pakistan asks for "Pakistani Ocean"? Should the international organizations approve them and rename it to "East/Indian/Pakistani/West Ocean"?

Koreans also call the Yellow Sea "West Sea", however, Koreans have never made a claim against China, since what is in dispute is Sea of Japan and many pre-19th-century maps call this sea Sea of Corea, clearly indicating the naming of this sea is in dispute (not the Yellow Sea).

Historical Maps

According to the Korean government [1], the following maps indicate that Sea of Japan does not historically reflect how this area was named before the 19th century. They are available for online viewing at the University of Southern California's online archive.

Readers will also notice that the historical transliteration for 'Korea' is consistently Corea in French, Italian and English, without exception.

External Links



Editorial Notes

Previous versions of this page contain following lines, but the last editor feels they are either irrelevant or too moot.

See also: Korean-Japanese disputes