Takeshima – Prof. Shimojo
What is Takeshima?
Takeshima is an isolated group of islets in the Sea of Japan lying at 37 degrees 9 minutes north latitude and 131 degrees 55 minutes east longitude. The group is comprised of an eastern islet, a western islet, and several dozen reefs. The total area of the group is 0.23 square kilometers, or roughly five times that of the Tokyo Dome. They have been uninhabited since ancient times because it is next to impossible to obtain drinking water, and all four sides of the two islets are sheer cliffs.
The dispute over whether Takeshima belongs to Japan or South Korea is known in Japan as the Takeshima problem. In Japan, Takeshima is considered to be under the jurisdiction of Okinoshima-cho, Shimane Prefecture. In South Korea, Takeshima is referred to as Tokto or Dokto, and it is under the jurisdiction of Ullong-do, North Gyeongsang Province.
The Background of the Takeshima Problem
The Takeshima problem originated on January 18, 1952, when then-President Syngman Rhee of South Korea declared sovereignty over the sea around the Korean Peninsula and proclaimed the existence of the Syngman Rhee Line in international waters. Takeshima was on the Korean side of this line, though it had been incorporated into Shimane Prefecture on February 22, 1905.
Then, on September 2, 1954, the South Korean government decided to occupy Takeshima with military force. On September 15 they set up a lighthouse on one of the islets and notified the Japanese government. Japan approached the South Korean government about submitting the case to the International Court of Justice, but the South Koreans rejected this idea. Since then, Japan and South Korea have held no discussions about the Takeshima problem.
There were three reasons for establishing the Syngman Rhee Line. The first was the intent to avoid conflict over fishing activities. Japan had fished in the waters adjacent to the Korean Peninsula since before World War II. The South Koreans were concerned that continued Japanese fishing in those waters after the war would damage their fishing industry.
The second reason was related to the section in Article 2 (a) of the San Francisco Peace Treaty that defined Korean territory. At first, the treaty stated that Takeshima was Korean territory, but it had become Japanese territory by the final draft. When South Korea discovered the change, they thought they should claim sovereignty before the treaty went into effect.
The third reason for the line was that the Koreans wanted a diplomatic card to play in negotiations for normalizing relations between Korea and Japan. An issue for the Koreans in these negotiations was the assets held by individual Japanese still on the Korean Peninsula. According to some estimates, these assets accounted for 80% to 90% of all Korean assets at the time. Repatriating these assets to Japan would have bankrupted the country.
Eventually, Korea seized more than 200 Japanese fishing vessels using the Syngman Rhee Line as justification. They held the interned seamen and Takeshima as hostages to pressure the Japanese government into making concessions during the negotiations for normalization.
The South Korean Claim
One basis for South Korea’s claim that Takeshima is part of their territory is found in the document Dongguk Munheon Bigo (Explanatory Notes for Korean Documents), written in 1770. One section of this document, Yeojigo (Geographical Characteristics), contains the passage, “According to the Yeojiji (Topographical Records), Ulleong (island) and Usan (island) are all part of the Usan territory. Usan is therefore the Japanese (territory) Matsushima.” Thus, this document records that the island of Usan is the Japanese island Matsushima. Matsushima was the name formerly used in Japan for Takeshima.
The South Koreans use this passage as the grounds for their interpretation that the Usan appearing in the Dongguk Yeoji Seungnam (Survey of the Geography of Korea) of 1481 and the Sejong Sillok (Chronicles of King Sejong) of 1454 is also Matsushima. Additionally, the Dongguk Yeoji Seungnam states that the Usan territory, which consisted of the island of Ulleong and its outlying island of Usan, was incorporated into the Silla Kingdom in 512. Therefore, Takeshima was South Korean (Korean) territory from the beginning of the 6th century.
The Koreans also insist that since the Japanese claim to Takeshima is based in part on the Inshu Shicho Goki (Records of Observations of Oki Province) written in 1667 by Saito Hosen, a retainer of the Matsue daimyo, their own claim is based on documents predating these records by about 200 years. They assert that Takeshima was historically Korean territory because the name of Usan appeared in older documents.
The Basis of the Argument
The issue is whether the island of Usan was the island the Japanese called Matsushima, which today is called Takeshima. In other words, is the citation in the Dongguk Munheon Bigo correct?
The statement that Usan is Takeshima first appears in June 1696, when Ahn Yong-bok, who secretly entered the Tottori domain, testified after returning to Korea that “Matsushima is therefore Usan, and this is also our territory.” The expression “Stated in the Yeojiji ” is used in the Dongguk Munheon Bigo, so the Yeojiji, written in 1656, confirms this. All that would be necessary is to check the citation, but this presents two problems.
The first is that the Yeojiji no longer exists. The second is that the Dongguk Munheon Bigo itself is a collection of passages quoted from other texts. Recorded in the document corresponding to the underlying source is the passage, “The explanation according to the Yeojiji is that Usan and Ulleong are the same island”. This means that Usan and Ulleong were the same island referred to by different names. No reference at all is made to Matsushima, today known as Takeshima. In other words, the original passage was altered when it was quoted in the Dongguk Munheon Bigo, on which South Korea’s claim rests. The passage in that document now reads, “According to the Yeojiji, Ulleong and Usan are all part of the Usan territory. Usan is therefore the Japanese (territory) Matsushima.” Thus, one basis for the Korean argument falls apart.
The South Koreans, who regard Usan as Matsushima, or Takeshima, consider the Usan referred to in the Dongguk Yeoji Seungnam and the Sejong Sillok as Takeshima. They also consider the reference in those texts to the word “visible” to mean that Takeshima is visible from Ulleong. They therefore insist that Takeshima is their territory.
When Japan and Korea disputed the sovereignty of Ulleong about 300 years ago, however, the Koreans at that time interpreted the same passage to mean that Ulleong was visible from Ulsan on the Korean Peninsula to stake their claim to Ulleong. The same text has been used to claim Korean sovereignty over both Ulleong and Takeshima. This is evidence that the self-contradictory Korean positions present a problem for their interpretation.
Moreover, the policy used for islands when compiling the Dongguk Yeoji Seungnam and the Sejong Sillok Jiriji was to record the distance and direction from the government authority with jurisdiction. Ulleong is far from Ulsan Province, making actual measurements difficult. Therefore, the expression “visible” was used to express the distance from Ulsan to Ulleong. In that event, the Usan visible in the Dongguk Yeoji Seungnam and other sources is a small island near Ulleong.
In fact, An Yong-bok stated that Usan was northeast of Ulleong. A look at the map reveals that Takeshima is roughly to the southeast of Ulleong. Therefore, the Usan that An Yong-bok saw was Chikusho (now Chikuto, or Jukto in Korean), near Ulleong.
Further, South Korea relies on the Korean Government Imperial Ordinance #41 of 1900 to claim that the incorporation of Takeshima into Shimane Prefecture constituted an invasion. In this ordinance, the island Tolsom (Seokto in the Silla dialect) is mentioned as an islet of Ulleong. Since the pronunciation of Tolsom in the Silla dialect is similar to Dokto, the South Koreans insist it is undoubtedly that island. But Korea did not begin to call Takeshima Dokto until around 1904. It is not possible to claim that Tolsom is Dokto.
Here’s why: when Korea conducted surveys of Ulleong in 1882 and 1900, they did not confirm the existence of Takeshima. When Takeshima was incorporated into Shimane Prefecture, it was terra nullius—an uninhabited territory not part of any country. Therefore, Japan’s incorporation of Takeshima into Shimane Prefecture cannot be deemed an act of invasion.
Though South Korea insists that Takeshima is clearly their own territory on the basis of history and international law, the grounds for this assertion are tenuous.
As long as documents and historical materials cannot be verified, it will not be possible to make any progress on Japanese-Korean historical issues, much less the Takeshima problem, when the past is described from the historical perspective that an invasion occurred. Research into Takeshima in Japan has been at a standstill since the latter half of the 1960s. For Japan to insist on its own claims, it must have decisive arguments that overturn those of the other party. But Japan’s rebuttals have been insufficient.
When problems arise regarding the Takeshima issue, the South Koreans simply howl in protest. They have completely forgotten the historical background of this dispute. Additionally, their understanding of history tends to be one-sided because there is no Japanese-Korean dialogue. The examination of historical problems begins from a mutual understanding of the differences in Japanese and Korean social systems and culture and from the consideration of what constitutes the essence of the problem. I think the Takeshima problem should be the opportunity to take the first step in fostering true friendship between Japan and South Korea.
The area is the fishing grounds for the red queen crab (Chionoecetes japonicus)
The area near Takeshima has been a site for harvesting abalone, turban shells, and wakame seaweed since the Edo period. It was also the hunting grounds for sea lions. Today, it is the main site for harvesting the red queen crab. Japanese fishing craft, primarily from Shimane and Tottori Prefectures, operate in these waters. According to the Shimane Prefecture Fisheries Division, the catch of red queen crabs peaked in the early 1980s and totaled more than 20,000 tons. This catch subsequently declined every year, reaching 6,207 tons in 1998. It has continued to fall since then, dropping to 5,952 tons in 1999, 5,254 tons in 2000, 3,886 tons in 2001, 3,339 tons in 2002, and 3,135 tons in 2003. The value of this catch has slipped to 765 million yen.
With the 1999 Japanese-Korean fisheries agreement, Takeshima became a “provisional area” in which fishing vessels from both Japan and South Korea were allowed to operate under the regulations of their respective countries. The agreement stipulated, however, that the 12 nautical mile area around Takeshima would be the territorial waters of South Korea. Japanese fishing vessels are denied entry into this territory.
In addition, the Japanese prohibited fishing during the months of August and September to protect marine resources. In contrast, South Korea did not establish a period during which fishing would be prohibited. Thus, according to the Shimane Prefecture Fisheries Division, “As matters stand now, South Korea occupies the fishing grounds and the fishing vessels of Shimane Prefecture are excluded.”
Recently, the private sector in both countries finally began to discuss the issue, and an agreement was reached in which the South Koreans would prohibit fishing for one month. This agreement is not legally binding, however, and there are reports of repeated illegal incursions into Japanese waters outside the provisional area. Kazuo Higo, head of the Fisheries Division, stated, “Not all the reasons for the declining fish catch are attributable to the South Koreans, but I think they are one of the primary factors.”
Born in Nagano Prefecture in 1950, Dr. Shimojo was awarded a Ph.D. from Kokugakuin University. He went to South Korea in 1983 and taught at several institutions. He served as the senior lecturer at the Samsung Training Institute and visiting professor at Inchon University. Dr. Shimojo returned to Japan in 1998 and was named a professor at the Takushoku University Institute for International Development. His published works include “The Road to Overcoming Japanese-Korean History” (Tendensha).
(Translation from the original Mainichi Shimbun article copyright by William Sakovich 2006-2007)