Japan from the inside out

Becoming that which you hate

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

THE REST OF THE WORLD may have forgotten about Takeshima, the cause of a territorial dispute poisoning Japanese and South Korean relations, but Japan’s Shimane Prefecture—which claims jurisdiction over the islets occupied by South Korea—certainly hasn’t.

These islets in the Sea of Japan cover an estimated 230,967 square meters, which is approximately five times the size of the Tokyo Dome, a baseball stadium and concert venue in Japan. For comparison, Central Park in New York City occupies more than 3 million square meters of land.

Japan and Korea have been squabbling over the ownership of these specks of land for centuries, mostly because they are in the middle of prime fishing grounds, but South Koreans also consider the issue to be of critical importance because it gives them a chance to poke Japan in the eye, assuage their inferiority complex, and massage the permanent chip on the Joseon shoulder.

To more assertively present the Japanese position, Shimane Prefecture last year published a booklet in English (which I translated) summarizing the basis for the Japanese claim. One benefit of being a professional translator is being paid to learn things. One thing I learned by translating this booklet is that most of the information and arguments South Koreans post on the Net claiming Takeshima, or Dokto in Korean, as their territory are worthless.

Here are three examples:

In the late 17th century, fisherman Ahn Yong-bok claimed to have told the Tottori feudal lord while in that domain that he received title to the islets from the Shogunate, which was then stolen from him by the Tsushima feudal lord. Some stories have it that the Tottori feudal lord granted him title directly.

Ahn was indeed in Tottori, but it was unlikely he met the Tottori daimyo. The daimyo was living in Edo (Tokyo) at the time in compliance with the Shogun’s orders that feudal lords periodically spend time in the capital where he could keep an eye on them. This is just the sort of information that a non-Japanese would not know. Perhaps the Koreans didn’t realize it themselves–or if they did, thought no one else could see it through their propaganda blizzard.

It’s not as if Ahn is the most credible of sources. He came up with three different excuses for being on those islands in the Sea of Japan in the first place. There was a reason he had to do some fast talking—it was against Korean law for a Korean to be there at the time. To further complicate matters, the only surviving records of his account are based on documents that no longer exist.

Ahn also had trouble figuring out exactly where he was, though that’s understandable given the size of the islands and the navigational technology of the day.

For his superb seamanship and successfully cocking a snoot at the Japanese, Ahn Yong-bok has been dubbed “the father of the Korean navy”. The country has even named a destroyer (with the Aegis combat system) after him.

Masanobu Kitazawa of Japan conducted an on-site survey based on Ulleungdo in 1880 and reported that Takeshima belonged to Korea.

Korean scholars with a reading knowledge of Japanese have pulled this excerpt out of Kitazawa’s account to assert that the Japanese long ago recognized Korean sovereignty over the islets.

It’s odd, however, that the same scholars neglect to mention that Kitazawa clearly said he was referring to an island north of Ulleungdo, whereas the actual Takeshima lies to the southeast. Kitazawa had mistaken a small island called Jukto for Takeshima.

The American GHQ ceded Takeshima to Korea through SCAPIN #667 when it occupied the country at the end of the war and prevented Japanese access.

While the Americans did prevent the Japanese from going to Takeshima at that time, the Koreans fail to give us the rest of the story. That starts with the statement in the Potsdam Declaration that “Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to…such minor islands as we determine,” and continues with the same SCAPIN #667, which also specified, “Nothing in this directive shall be construed as an indication of Allied policy relating to the ultimate determination of the minor islands.” It is underscored in SCAPIN #1033, in which the GHQ stated: “The present authorization is not an expression of Allied policy relative to ultimate determination of national jurisdiction, international boundaries or fishing rights…”

The ultimate determination by the Allies was made by the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which did not include Takeshima in the territory the Japanese were forced to relinquish—despite Korean demands that they be given Takeshima and Parangdo (another small island that no one could find, but was later determined to be submerged).

In addition to these fabrications and misrepresentations, here is what the Korean side has done to maintain possession of the islets:

  • Violated international law and an international peace treaty by unilaterally seizing Takeshima by military force, annexing it, and staking a claim on a large area of international waters in the process through its declaration of the Syngman Rhee Line in 1952

  • Maintained their occupation with a police presence

  • Killed or wounded 44 Japanese fishermen in the area

  • Violated a fishing agreement they signed with Japan by refusing to allow Japanese fishermen access to the surrounding waters, and using fishing techniques the agreement prohibited because they deplete the marine resources too rapidly.

  • Conducted an international propaganda campaign based on false information

  • Exacerbated chauvinistic and anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea in a campaign in which politicians of all parties–but particularly the “progressive” Uri Party–and the state-run KBS television and radio networks actively participate.

  • Refused to discuss the issue with Japan at all, and overreacted by screaming that the Japanese are trying to reoccupy Korea and reestablish an East Asian empire when the Japanese claim the islets as their own.

In an irony of history, their behavior resembles that of Imperial Japan in the early 20th century, albeit on a smaller scale. The result is that South Korea’s policy in regard to Takeshima is a classic example of people being consumed by so much hatred that they themselves have become what they hate.

It’s a tragedy that the Koreans have allowed themselves to reach this state. Are they unaware of what they have become, or do they consider this to be a righteous release of han, the Korean concept of holding a grudge?

Either one would be an even greater tragedy.

To read Shimane Prefecture’s side of the story in full, go to this page. For a shorter summary by Prof. Masao Shimojo in the Mainichi Shimbun (which I also translated), try this page.

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