Why the East Sea not the Sea of Japan?

Everyone, what name do you think of the sea between Korea and Japan?
Koreans call this sea “East Sea”, but Japanese are calling this sea the “Sea of Japan”.
However, many citizens of the world know this sea’s name as the “Sea of Japan”.

Why do the citizens of the world know the Japanese name “Sea of Japan” a lot more than the Korean name “East Sea”?

The term “East Sea” has a deep relationship with the history of the International Hydrographic Organization. In order for the world’s seas to have standard international titles and ensure safe voyaging, the International Hydrographic Organization or IHO establishes these much needed international standards.

In 1929, the IHO published a book titled “Limits of Oceans and Seas” in which the world’s oceans names were internationally standardized.

The “Sea of Japan” name began being widely used internationally from the release of the 1929 IHO released “Limits of Oceans and Seas”.

At that time, Korea was under Japanese occupation and thus could not participate in the publication process. Therefore, it unilaterally reflects Japan’s position in the international community.

However, Koreans’ name “East Sea” has been the name they as a people have used for over 2,000 years and not only in Korea but on world maps and even on old Japanese maps, it’s not the “Sea of Japan” that is written but “East Sea” or the “Joseon Sea”. To put the name of one country for a sea that is shared by South Korea, North Korea, Russia, and Japan isn’t right.

In this case, until there is an agreement on a unifying name, each country is using its own name regardless of international principle.

Starting now, I will introduce to you on why we are changing the naming of the sea between Korea and Japan to “East Sea”.

First! The term “East Sea” is universal and historical.

When determining a sea’s name, the most important rule is to reflect on what the universally used name by the citizens of the neighboring countries. “East Sea” came onto the stage in history over 2,000 years ago and has been used on the peninsula ever since.

The first record of “East Sea” was in The History of the Three Kingdoms and the Saga of King Dong- myeong and in the process of recording matters in around 59 B.C., “East Sea” appears. It is also known that it was used jointly with the country name of “Japan’s” use of the “Sea of Japan”name starting around 700 years afterwards. Moreover, the “East Sea”, starting with the Korean peninsula, is bordering Japan, Russia, etc. so it is not just Japan’s sea, but a sea that many countries share. Therefore, Japan’s opinion of one-sidedly referring it to independently as the “Sea of Japan” is not right.

Second! The term “East Sea”has justification at the international level.

The IHO and the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names or UNCSGN, the international organizations which determine the standard names of the world’s seas, suggest that in the hard case on the agreement of a name for a landmark shared by 2 countries, it is ordinary principle to use each working name.

Following this, the current name for the sea between Korea and Japan should not have just one name decided on but the joint use of the Korean name “East Sea” and the Japanese “Sea of Japan” name together in accordance with international law.

* The gist of the technology resolution of International Hydrographic Organization(IHO), A.4.2.6(1974)
It recommends that in case of topographical feature shared with two or more countries, yet naming differently in their own language, the countries concerned endeavored to reach an agreement on a singular name and if failed to, all of the names in each language should be marked in parallel unless technical reasons make simultaneous use impossible.

* The gist of UNCSGN Resolution Ⅲ/20(1977)
It recommends that in case of a topographical feature under the sovereignty of more than one country or divided between two or more countries, if countries concerned failed to come to an agreement on a common name, it should be a general rule of international cartography to accept all of different names in each of the languages used by each of the countries concerned

Third! “Sea of Japan” is a remainder from Japanese Imperialism.

To a Korean, the term “East Sea”is not a simple problem over a name, but a problem of recovering Korea’s name that had been illogically taken during the Japanese Occupation Period (1910~1945). When Japan ruled over Korea as a colony, Koreans could not speak their own language or use their language’s writing system, but instead were forced to use only Japanese. At this time, Korean place names were changed to Japanese and Korean people’s full names were changed to Japanese-style ones through coercion. In this extreme case in which an imperialist nation makes its occupied colony’s citizens unable to use their ethnic indigenous language is a very unusual instance of colonization.

Therefore, to a Korean, the matter of changing the “Sea of Japan” to “East Sea”is settling the vestiges of Japanese imperialism and restoring the Korean people’s identity.

Fourth! “East Sea” is part of Koreans’ lives.

“East Sea” was the basis of lifestyle to the Korean people and was a target of worship and occasionally the stage for history. In the title of “East Sea” is Korea’s symbolic history, culture, and identity. In various recorded literature and maps, the simple designation of “East Sea” not only appears but comes along with a target of prayers for people’s richness and stability, history’s stage, the background of traditional narrative, and the base of life. Just like how “East Sea” is the first word in the National Anthem’s first measure, “East Sea” is a symbol of Korea and stands for its history. Not only this, even now, the term “East Sea” is used as a number of symbols inlife, place names, brand names, and more in various domains.

Fifth! As time passes, the term “East Sea” is gaining support from the international community.

Through the efforts of Korean youth at VANK, the independent name of “Sea of Japan” is being changed to “East Sea” in well-known textbooks, map publishers, etc. VANK, which started in 1999, has, over 15 years, worked hard to raise awareness to the unjustness in the term “Sea of Japan” and to recover the name “East Sea” through targeting the world’s textbooks, world maps, broadcasting stations, foreign press, national intelligence websites, and more. The result are such as the world map producing publisher National Geographic, world textbook publisher DK, international sightseeing publisher Lonely Planet, and other well-known organizations making the change to not independently using the term “Sea of Japan” but “East Sea/Sea of Japan” instead.

To close, I introduce an email letter VANK members send to the world’s textbook and map companies.

To whom it may concern

Recently I visited your website And I was quite surprised to find your websites still label Korea’s ‘East Sea’ as ‘Sea of Japan,’ which is incorrect. Such an error on such a well-known website such as yours comes as a surprise since we regard you as one of the world’s best.

Using a proper name for the body of water between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago is not simply a question of changing the name of a geographical feature. It is part of the national effort by the Korean people to erase the legacy of Japanese Imperialism and to redress the unfairness that has resulted from it.

It is an absolute mistake to hear just one side of the story and to blindly follow. If we leave these kinds of things alone, it causes serious problems that disturb the order of international society

For your reference, Dorling & Kindersley, one of biggest textbook publishers, worldatlas.com, one of prominent online map provider, and one of the biggest mapmakers, National Geographic promised us that they would now use the name ‘East Sea.’ In addition, these websites are already using the name, ‘East Sea’ on their website after we pointed out the error

Most of all, the U.S. state of Virginia has revised the guidelines for history and social science education in line with a newly enacted law that requires textbooks to use the Korean name “East Sea” alongside the Japanese name “Sea of Japan” for the body of water between the two countries on 2017.

According to IHO(International Hydrographic Organization) and UNCSGN(United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names), in case of topographical feature shared with two or more countries, yet naming differently in their own languages, all of the names in each language should be marked.

Once Korea and Japan agree on a common designation, that is in accord with the general rule of international cartography, we will then follow the agreed-on designation.

As a member of the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK), I urge you to use ‘East Sea’ to describe the body of water in question or to use both Korean and Japanese designation simultaneously (e.g. ‘East Sea/Sea of Japan’) in all of your contents and maps.