How to Name the Sea
1. Historical Background
Historically, the sea area between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago known as the “Sea of Japan”, had been referred to by various names. Before the 18th century, no single name had been consistently used to designate this body of water. Various names such as “East Sea,” “Sea of Korea,” “Sea of Japan” and “Oriental Sea” appeared on old maps and publications.
It is from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century that “Sea of Korea” and “Sea of Japan” gained wide acceptance and became the names most frequently used by cartographers. It is worth noting that as late as 1870 even many Japanese maps referred to this body of water as the “Sea of Chosen(Choson)” which means literally “Sea of Korea,” Chos n being the ancient name of Korea.
2. When and why did the name “Sea of Japan” replace other names?
It was not until the Russo-Japanese War of(1904-1905) that the term “Sea of Japan”gained wider acceptance. The Russo-Japanese War not only influenced western perceptions of East Asia in Japan’s favor, but it also drastically changed the political landscape in East Asia. As a result, Korea was deprived of its political independence in 1905 and five years later fell under Japanese occupation.
The absence of Korea’s diplomatic representation in the international affairs during the first half of the 20th century until the end of World War gave Japan a free hand to promote the term “Sea of Japan”with virtually no opposition. The active promotion by Japan and its enhanced political stature in the world scene at that time led to the gradual replacement of such names as “Sea of Korea,” “East Sea” or “Oriental Sea” by the term “Sea of Japan.
This process culminated in the publication of the first edition of “Limits of Oceans and Seas,” which was published by the decision of the 1929 Monaco Conference of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) as special publication No. 23. This book, which has since been used by cartographers all over the world as an authoritative reference for designating maritime features, employed the term “Sea of Japan” for the body of water in question.
It is important for the international community not to lose sight of the fact that the decision by the editors of the above-mentioned book in favor of the name “Sea of Japan” was taken without due regard to the views of the Korean people during the period when Korea itself disappeared from the world map. This inherently partial decision is hard to justify and should therefore be rectified urgently.
3. What should be the proper name? : “East Sea”instead of “Sea of Japan”
Lying between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago and extending north toward Russia, the body of water in question is divided into either territorial waters of EEZ’s of the encircling countries. The Republic of Korea believes that naming such a sea area after a particular country’s name is not justified and that the sea should have a neutral name.
The name “East Sea,” besides its neutral character, has an additional advantage in that the adjective “East” perfectly fits with its geographical position, located in the Far Eastern part of Asia. Similar nomenclature for a body of water can be found in the example of the North Sea, which derives its name from its position relative to the European continent.
Given the reality that the name “Sea of Japan”is widely used at the present, however, the Republic of Korea, is of the view that, as an interim measure pending a final agreement between the two countries on a common designation, the two names, “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan,” should be used simultaneously in all official documents, maps and atlases in accordance with the general rule of international cartography.
This view is in line with the recommendations adopted by the following two authoritative international organizations in the area of the standardization of geographical names :
1) The IHO, in its resolution A. 4. 2, 6 adopted on March 13, 1974, endorsed the principle of simultaneous recognition of different names for a shared geographic feature when the sharing countries do not agree on a common name.
2) The Third UNCSGN went further in adopting resolution /20 entitled “Names of Features beyond a Single Sovereignty.”The resolution recommended that, when countries sharing a given geographical feature do not agree on a common name, it should be a general rule of cartography that the name used by each of the countries concerned will be accepted. A policy of accepting only one or some of such names while excluding the rest would be inconsistent as well as inexpedient in practice.
The simultaneous use of the two names is further justified by the examples of English Channel/La Manche and Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas.
4. Efforts by the Republic of Korea to restore the proper name
The Korean people have never accepted the name “Sea of Japan.”Since its liberation in 1945, the Republic of Korea has made consistent efforts to restore the appropriate name to the sea area in question.
It was in the negotiations of the 1965 Fisheries Agreement between the Republic of Korea and Japan that the Republic of Korea formally took up the issue with Japan. For the designation of this body of water, Korea proposed the “East Sea,” while Japan insisted on the term “Sea of Japan.” Failing to agree on a common designation, the two countries agreed on a provisional basis to use their own respective names in the original texts of the Agreement, i.e., “East Sea” in the Korean version and “Sea of Japan” in the Japanese version.
The Republic of Korea has initiated efforts to convince the international community of the validity of its arguments. For instance, the Republic of Korea brought this issue to the attention of the Member States of the United Nations at the Sixth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographic Names(UNCSGN) in 1992. Strongly arguing for the name “East Sea,”it tried to enlist the support of the international community for its cause. As a result, the Sixth Conference suggested that relevant parties consult with each other to resolve this issue.
The Republic of Korea followed this suggestion and tried to engage Japan in a constructive dialogue to find a mutually acceptable solution. However, no progress has been achieved, since Japan refused even to enter into serious discussions. This refusal on the part of Japan has resulted in a virtual standstill of the bilateral process.
Under such circumstances, the Republic of Korea believes that the international community should take up this issue at relevant international fora. The continuation of the status quo will only perpetuate the injustice of the past and, therefore, is not acceptable to the Republic of Korea.
At the 15th International Hydrographic Conference held in Monaco in April 1997, the Republic of Korea requested that both names “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan”be simultaneously used in The Limits of Oceans and Seas, based on IHO Resolution A.4.2.6., which endorsed the principle of simultaneous recognition of different names of a shared geographical feature when sharing countries do not agree on a common name. It is expected that the new edition of The Limits of Oceans and Seas will reflect the Republic of Korea’s viewpoint.
At the Seventh UNCSGN held in New York in January 1998, the Republic of Korea reiterated its position that the term “Sea of Japan”is unjustified, and called for urgent rectification. However, Japan has not changed its stance since the Sixth Conference that the name “Sea of Japan”is already widely accepted, and that the introduction of other names would cause confusion. The ROK,however, had the support of some representatives, who urged the Conference to encourage cartographers to use both names, as in the example of “English Channel/La Manche.”The UNCSGN President urged that the concerned parties seek advice, taking into account previous resolutions to try to reach an agreement.
5. Recent Progress
The Republic of Korea’s efforts have begun to yield some encouraging results, thanks to the understanding coming from the international community. Notable examples in this regard are the recent decisions made by Rand McNally, Encyclopedia Britannica and the National Geographic Society to use both names “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan”in their maps and publications.
Rand McNally, one of the world’s largest commercial map-makers, used both names “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” in Premier World Atlas(1997) and Portrait World Atlas(1998). Encyclopedia Britannica, in Political Map of Britannica CD 98 released in March 1998, followed the same format as Rand McNally.
Most recently, in December 1999, the National Geographic Society of the USA, publisher of the National Geographic, decided to use both “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” simultaneously in all its publications.
In addition, “Humanitarian Response Planning Map” DPRK 1998, prepared by the USAgency for International Development in December 1997, used “Sea of Japan(East Sea)”. Also, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Landform and Land Cover produced in 1998 by the United Nations Environment Programme starts with “East Sea”. A part of ‘Japan and Korea’ in The Cartographic Satellite Atlas of World, published by WorldSat International Inc. in 1997, used ‘TONG-HAE(East Sea)/NIPPON-KAI (Sea of Japan)’ as romanization of the endonym. The well-known US geography textbook, Geography : Realms, Regions, and Concepts 2000(Ninth Edition, published in August 1999) by J.J. de Blij and Peter O. Muller, uses both names “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” simultaneously.
Geographical names often have serious implications for the perception of a nation’s identity, culture, language and history. Thus, finding a proper name for the body of water between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago is not just a question of changing the name of a geographical feature. It is rather a part of national efforts by the Korean people to erase the legacy of their colonial past and to redress the unfairness that has resulted from it.
In conclusion, the Republic of Korea calls upon the international community to use both names simultaneously (in such a way as “East Sea/Sea of Japan”) in any official documents and world atlases as an interim measure pending an agreement on a common designation, which is in accordance with the general rule of international cartography.