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Dispute over the name Sea of Japan

Although generally accepted, the name Sea of Japan is disputed by North Korea and South Korea. South Koreans prefer the name East Sea for this body of water, while North Koreans ask for East Sea of Korea.

Korea has raised the issue ever since mid-1960s, and a formal request for review was made in 1992 at the 6th UN Conference[?] on the Standardization of Geographic Names (UNCSGN[?]). In 1997, the resulting UNCSGN resolution passed 111/20, and called on Korea and Japan to reach a consensus. The Japanese government has historically refused to cooperate on this issue, despite the resolution. Because the issue continues to be unresolved between the two countries, the United Nations body, International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), has dropped the name Sea of Japan and left the area blank. It was withdrawn after Japan's objection.

VANK, a volunteer Korean cyber-organization, began an e-mail campaign to raise international awareness of the dispute.

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

Japan's Argument

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 used to vaguely refer to the Pacific Ocean as Tokai, whose meaning is East Sea, since it is located to the east of Japan, but it is no longer in use. Instead, Tokai[?] (東海) today indicates the Pacific coastal region of Japan. 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. The region to the east 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"?

The "Sea of Japan" was not named by the Japanese people, but Koreans contest this information and contend that Japanese imperialism[?] has given rise to this name. The Koreans insist that the Sea of Japan was called the East Sea on some pre-18th-century maps, but it is apparently wrong. South Korea cannot point to any map that shows the sea exactly as "East Sea". Korea could find only two maps, that show "The EASTERN or COREA SEA", both of which made by John Senex. It has no choice but counting "Sea of Korea" and "Oriental Sea" as "East Sea". What is worse is that some 19th-century maps show "Eastern Sea" on the East China Sea.

Although South Korea insists that it has raised the issue ever since the mid-1960s, it is suspicious because Korea had shown "Japan Sea" on its own official nautical charts until 1995. South Korea did not raise the issue until 1992, although it joined the IHO in 1957. The draft for the fourth edition of The Limits of Oceans and Seas was completed without South Korea's objection. In 1993 South Korea's nautical charts included both "Japan Sea" and "Tong Hae" (Tong Hae is an old romanization of Donghae). It was in 1995 that Korea first adopted "East Sea" and deleted "Japan Sea" on their charts. In fact Korea had accepted "Japan Sea" until early 1990s.

Korea's Argument

The "Sea of Japan" was not named by the Japanese people, but Koreans contest this information and contend that 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".

According to the Korean government [1] (http://www.kois.go.kr/issue/EastSea/map_c2.asp), 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 (http://www.usc.edu/isd/archives/arc/libraries/eastasian/maps) online archive.

  • MAR CORIA in the Chart of Asia by Manuel Godinho in 1615
  • MAR DI CORAI in the Map of East Asia by Sir Robert Dudley in 1647
  • Ocean Oriental in the map of Philippe Briet in 1650
  • MAR DE CORÉE in the Map of Japanese Islands by Jean Baptiste Traemier in 1679
  • MER ORIENTALE OU MER DE CORÉE in the Map of Indo-China by Guillaum de L'isle, French geographer in 1705
  • Sea of Corea in the Map of East Asia by John Green in 1747
  • MER DE CORÉE in the Map of China published in France in 1748
  • M. DE CORÉE in the Chart of Asia published in France in 1761
  • MAR DI COREA in the Map of Asian Countries created with new methods by Prof. Antonio Chata and supported by the Senate of Venice, Italy in 1777
  • SEA OF COREA in the China section of a British Encyclopaedia in 1778
  • Sea of Corea in the Map of Russia by Bowen in 1780
  • MER DE CORÉE in the Map of Asia Dealing with Regions and Countries, in the possession of Spanish National Library in Madrid, in 1785
  • COREAN SEA in Asian Islands and Regions created in London, England in 1794
  • GULF OF COREA in the map created by Samuel Dhun in London and published by Laurie and Whittle in 1794
  • MER DE CORÉE in the Atlas of Asia created by Dezauche, a French geographer, in 1800
  • MER DE CORÉE OU DU JAPON, (Sea of Korea marked with bigger typography) in the Atlas of Asia by Dezauche in 1805
  • COREAN SEA in Cook's Voyages published in London to mark Captain Cook's exploratory route in 1808
  • GULF OF COREA in Lizars' Chart of Asia published in London in 1833
  • GULF OF COREA in Lizars' Chart of Asia published in London in 1840
  • SEA OF COREA in General World Map created by Wyld, a Briton, in 1845

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See also Korean anti-Japanism

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