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Takeshima Belongs to Japan: 33 Postwar Maps Reveal the Truth

A trove of official Japanese and American postwar maps provides overwhelming evidence that Takeshima has historically been recognized as Japanese territory.



An expanded image of an American aeronautical chart published in 1954. The dotted line shows the border between Japan and South Korea near Takeshima (aka Liancourt Rocks), indicating that it is Japanese territory. ("Collection of Old Maps of Takeshima" © The Japan Institute of International Affairs).

A collection of official Japanese and American maps, made after World War II, clearly shows Takeshima (aka the Liancourt Rocks) as Japanese territory. Specifically, Takeshima is part of Okinoshima in Shimane Prefecture of Japan. But South Korea has continued to occupy the island illegally.

Takeshima has been illegally occupied by South Korea (© Sankei)

The maps were released on the website of the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), a foreign affairs and security policy think tank that used to be affiliated with the Japanese foreign ministry.

Rikinobu Funasugi, an associate professor of history at Shimane University, led the inquiry. He expounds, "These important documents support the claim that Takeshima was recognized as Japanese territory by the United States, which drafted the peace treaty after the war." 

A present-day map of Japan showing the locations of Takeshima and Senkaku Islands. (© Sankei)

Clear Borders

The "Collection of Old Maps of Takeshima" features 19 maps of Japan and 15 American aeronautical charts showing Japan. Commissioned by the think tank, Funasugi researched and collected the maps over four years from 2018.

According to JIIA, South Korean public and private organizations have been collecting old maps to back their claim over Takeshima. In fact, they have published more than 200 maps, including some in Japanese, "to promulgate the one-sided claim that there are no official Japanese maps showing Takeshima as Japanese territory."

In light of this situation, Funasugi stresses the significance of these maps. "We were able to refute South Korea's claim because the results of the inquiry confirm that Takeshima has been part of Japanese territory since the peace treaty went into effect. This excludes the period of postwar occupation [of Japan by the Allied Forces] when the territorial borders weren't yet established."

A map titled "Main Regions of Japan" (scale 1:2,000,000), published by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) in October 1955. Takeshima is clearly marked as Japanese territory. ("Collection of Old Maps of Takeshima" © The Japan Institute of International Affairs).

American Aeronautical Charts Show Takeshima

Additionally, the collection showcases aeronautical charts owned by the US National Archives and Records Administration. Under international law, maps provided by a third party are generally not accepted as evidence in territorial disputes. However, the charts are vital in demonstrating how a third-party country perceives the territorial ownership of Takeshima. Out of 60 aeronautical charts showing Takeshima, 14 charts from 1954, 1955, 1957, and 1958 are in the collection.

On the charts, a dotted line clearly marks the territorial border between Takeshima and South Korea's Ulleungdo. The words "KOREA" and "JAPAN" can be seen on the Ulleungdo side and the Takeshima side, respectively.

Funasugi explains, "This clearly shows that the American government recognized Takeshima as part of Japanese territory."

In fact, in the drafting process of the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, Korea demanded the US include Takeshima as one of the territories Japan would have to renounce due to its defeat in the war. However, the American government rejected Korea's demands. It asserted that Takeshima was Japanese territory and had never been considered part of Korea. 

Nevertheless, South Korea's government and public organizations are using old maps to back up their claim over Takeshima. However, Funasugi describes their maps as "a jumble of official and nonofficial maps. Some maps show Ulleungdo or Jukdo, the island east of Ulleungdo [as present-day Takeshima]. In any case, they do not serve as evidence of territorial ownership under international law, and are of little significance."

Takeshima Records Dating Back to the Edo Period

An explanation of Japan's stance over Takeshima can be found on the Japanese foreign ministry's website.

"The group of islands currently called Takeshima was once known as 'Matsushima,' and the island now called Utsuryo Island [Ulleungdo] used to be known as 'Takeshima' or 'Isotakeshima' ... It can be confirmed from a variety of maps and documents that Japan has long recognized the existence of 'Takeshima' and 'Matsushima.' For example, on many maps, including the Kaisei Nippon Yochi Rotei Zenzu (Revised Complete Map of Japanese Lands and Roads – first published in 1779 by Nagakubo Sekisui), which is the most prominent published cartographic projection of Japan, the locations of Utsuryo Island and Takeshima are accurately recorded at their current positions between the Korean Peninsula and the Oki Islands."

Takeshima as shown on a map titled "Main Regions of Japan" issued in October 1955 by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI). A border drawn between Takeshima and South Korea's Ulleungdo clearly indicates that Takeshima was Japanese territory. ("Collection of Old Maps of Takeshima" © The Japan Institute of International Affairs).

Funasugi points out, "Our country has not properly tried to refute the unified claim to Takeshima by South Korea's public and private sectors." 

Although nothing is surprising about Japanese maps marking Takeshima as Japanese territory, Funasugi stresses that the maps should be made widely available as "many Japanese citizens are unaware that such maps exist."

Funasugi will continue his research on maps of Takeshima, including those from before World War II. Likewise, JIIA will collect and publish more maps, including those in Korean, to counter South Korea's claim.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Noriaki Matsuda

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