Connect with us


Why Give Takeshima Away? A Look at the Real History

A recent Chosun Ilbo article by a university professor in Japan backs South Korea's claims to Takeshima. Historian Masao Shimojo analyzes the historical facts.



An article titled "Looking at the Japanese student who said, 'Let's give Takeshima to South Korea for free'" published in the Japanese version of Chosun Ilbo (electronic version) on March 2nd (image partially edited) )

The Chosun Ilbo recently featured an article titled "Japanese Students Advocating for South Korean Sovereignty Over Takeshima." This piece appeared in the South Korean newspaper's March 2 online Japanese edition. An opinion piece, it reflects the views of Professor C, who teaches at a foreign language university in Japan's Kansai region. 

On February 22, marking Takeshima Day, Professor C offered a suggestion to South Korean readers concerning the island. According to this professor, most Japanese students have no interest in Takeshima. However, some Japanese students propose conceding Dokdo (the Korean name for "Takeshima") to South Korea. 

"Therefore," C claimed, "there is no need for South Korea to raise a commotion over Dokdo." For South Korea, which maintains there is no territorial dispute over Dokdo, a "quiet approach would be the most effective strategy." 

However, this is equivalent to condoning theft as long as the victim remains unaware. Moreover, C's suggestion that Takeshima belongs to South Korea by virtue of Japanese students' apathy is unimpressive. Such reasoning falls short of the standards of a university lecturer in international relations. From Japan's perspective, South Korea's fixation on Takeshima seems far more unusual than Japanese students' alleged indifference. 

Origins of the Disparity

Educators discussing Japan-South Korea relations with Japanese students should explore the historical context behind the differing interest levels in Takeshima. They should also investigate the reasons for the dispute over its ownership, guiding students to uncover the facts.

Acknowledging the significant societal differences between Japan and the Korean Peninsula until the late 19th century is imperative. As an expert in international relations, Professor C would no doubt recognize this. 

Japan was a feudal system with regional decentralization. The Korean Peninsula, on the other hand, had a centralized county system. Both had different societal and political ideologies. 


Naturally, the divergence in approaches to political interest also influences contemporary political consciousness. This is evident in the Sea of Japan naming dispute. In April 2014, Virginia enacted a law requiring public school textbooks to include "Sea of Japan" and "East Sea." South Korea refers to the Sea of Japan as the "East Sea." 

In 1992, Seoul began campaigning for using this term alongside "Sea of Japan" in international forums. They claimed that the term had been used on the Korean Peninsula for 2,000 years before Japanese colonial rule. Therefore, they argued that the sea should be officially renamed the "East Sea."

In addition, they would claim, "Dokdo's location within the Sea of Japan implies Japanese territorial ownership, which is inappropriate." South Koreans and South Korean Americans linked the naming dispute with the Takeshima issue, successfully lobbying the Virginia state legislature.

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).

Echoes of the Sea of Japan Naming Dispute

However, in 2020, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) approved the exclusive use of the "Sea of Japan." With this decision, the IHO rejected South Korea's proposal to co-designate the body of water the "East Sea." 

Some suggested that my booklet, The Name "Sea of Japan" Is the Only Internationally Established Name, informed the IHO's decision. In this booklet, I posited that the use of "East Sea" instead of "Sea of Japan" began around 1946. I refuted claims suggesting a 2,000-year history of "East Sea," deeming them unfounded. 

Additionally, I challenged the assertion that the "Sea of Japan" is a relic of Japan's colonial era, determining it historical fabrication. Diplomatic missions abroad are currently preparing this booklet for distribution to Korean-Americans. 

While the naming dispute garnered much interest in South Korea, Japan paid the issue considerably less attention. Regardless, how much interest any given issue receives has nothing to do with historical facts. Takeshima is no different. 

In South Korea, scholars have turned to historical records such as the 18th-century Tongguk Munhon Pigo (the Comprehensive Compilation of Documents on the Eastern State). They have used such sources to interpret the island "Usan-do" in ancient maps and documents as present-day Takeshima. This interpretation forms the basis for their claim of sovereignty over the island. 

However, the original source states, "Usan, Ulleungdo Island," suggesting that "Usan-do" refers to Ulleungdo Island, not Takeshima. Someone had evidently altered the description in the Tongguk Munhon Pigo, on which South Korea had based its argument. 

Takeshima has been illegally occupied by South Korea since immediately before Japan regained its independence after WWII. (© Sankei)

Japan's Violated Sovereignty Remains Unresolved

In his (or her) contribution to the Chosun Ilbo, Professor C asserts that "South Korea effectively controls Dokdo." Yet South Korea unlawfully occupies Takeshima without historical grounds to justify its claim over the islets. 

Moreover, Professor C suggested, "If Seoul were to relax its vigilance, it would only perplex Shimane Prefecture." Such concerns are unfounded. Shimane Prefectural Assembly enacted the Takeshima Day Ordinance, urging the establishment of territorial rights over Takeshima. This ordinance aimed to prompt the Japanese government to take decisive political steps toward resolving the Takeshima issue.

Japan's longstanding international issues are not limited to the Takeshima issue. Innocent Japanese citizens still languish in North Korean captivity. A more recent concern is the unchecked provocations by Chinese coast guard vessels around the Senkaku Islands

During the Takeshima Day ceremony, Diet members spoke confidently about the three pillars of nationhood: territory, citizens, and national sovereignty. Yet, foreign nations have seized our territory, abducted citizens, and pose a threat to our national sovereignty.

The National Diet is currently embroiled in controversy over slush funds. Today, Japan's political landscape resembles the Edo period, when the shogunate and feudal lords monopolized power. 

I hope Professor C can shed light on why South Korea, having annexed Takeshima, maintains such intense interest. This explanation should include historical context and the current insular preoccupations of Japan's Diet. 


(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author: Masao Shimojo, Visiting Professor at Tokai University and Shimane Prefectural University.