Asia
The Issue of the Name of the Sea of Japan

April 4, 2014
Japanese
Korean

  • Video:”Sea of Japan” - A globally established name

Video:"Sea of Japan"
- A globally established name

The name Sea of Japan is the only internationally established name for the sea area concerned. Japan has strongly opposed the unfounded argument concerning the name Sea of Japan and has called for a better understanding of the issue and support for Japan's position from the international community in order to maintain the sole use of the name, Sea of Japan. Japan's position is shared by many international organizations, including the United Nations.

Pamphlet: Sea of Japan - The One and Only Name Familiar to the International Community

Summary of the issues regarding the name Sea of Japan

  1. In recent years, a few countries have suddenly begun to challenge the sole use of the name Sea of Japan.
  2. Such challenge does not have solid foundation.
  3. Japan emphatically refutes those assertions without solid foundation.
  4. The United Nations as well as the Government of the United States officially uses the name Sea of Japan.
  5. It is verified by a survey of historical maps from around the world conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan that the name Sea of Japan is the only internationally established name for the sea area concerned.
  6. The Government of the Republic of Korea(ROK) has recently published a survey that can be interpreted as withdrawing a part of its own assertion.

1. In recent years, a few countries have suddenly begun to challenge the sole use of the name Sea of Japan.

Objections to the name Sea of Japan were first raised by the ROK and North Korea at the Sixth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, held in 1992.

Although there had been no prior objections made to the term, either during bilateral talks or at international fora, the ROK suddenly began insisting that the name of the Sea of Japan be changed to "East Sea," or that both names be used together.

2. Such challenge does not have solid foundation.

(1) ROK assertion: "The name Sea of Japan became widespread as a result of Japanese expansionism and colonial rule."

The Japanese Government's survey of historical maps confirms that the name Sea of Japan was already prevalent at the early 19th century. Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1867) had an isolationist policy, and was unable to exercise any influence to establish the name Sea of Japan. Consequently, the ROK's assertion that the name Sea of Japan became widespread as a result of "expansionism and colonial rule" in the latter half of the 19th century is wholly invalid.

Further, as shown in item6, the Government of the ROK has recently published a survey that can be interpreted as recognizing that the name Sea of Japan did not become widespread as a result of Japanese expansionism and colonial rule.

(2) ROK's assertion: "For the past 2000 years, the name "East Sea" has been used in the Korean Peninsula."

The ROK provides no evidence for the assertion that the name "East Sea" has been used continuously for the past 2000 years. Even though the name "East Sea" is in use today in the ROK, it is obvious that the name "East Sea" is nothing but a local name used only in the ROK,and that the name Sea of Japan is the only name that has been in wide use internationally for a long period of time.

(3) ROK assertion: "The UN and IHO have issued resolutions that urge the use of the name 'East Sea' together with Sea of Japan."

The ROK contends that the United Nations (UN) and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) have issued resolutions that advocate the name "East Sea" be used together with Sea of Japan. However, neither UNCSGN Resolution III/20 nor IHO Technical Resolution A.4.2.6 includes any specific recommendation to use "East Sea" alongside Sea of Japan. Further, these resolutions presume that the geographical feature concerned is under the sovereignty of two or more countries, such as in the case of a bay or strait, and does not apply to the high seas such as with the Sea of Japan. Following the ROK's assertion, if even one of the countries bordering the Atlantic or Pacific were to raise an objection to the names of these oceans, it would lead to the use of multiple names, which would clearly be unmanageable. The international community cannot accept such an argument.

Further, as stated under item4 the UN has already officially confirmed its policy requiring the use of Sea of Japan as the standard geographical term in all official UN publications. The IHO publication "Limits of Oceans and Seas" (S-23) also uses the name Japan Sea for the sea area concerned. This demonstrates that there is no UN or IHO resolution recommending the use of "East Sea" together with Sea of Japan.

(4) Results of the ROK survey lack credibility

(a) The ROK survey counts "Oriental Sea" and "Sea of Korea" as "East Sea."

The survey of historical maps conducted by the ROK(Society for East Sea)in 2004 that asserts "East Sea" as its official name counts the terms "Oriental Sea" and "Sea of Korea" (or "Korea Sea") as "East Sea," and compares the number of maps that use one of these terms to the number of maps that use Sea of Japan. It is apparent that "Sea of Korea" and "East Sea" are different names. Moreover, the names "Oriental Sea" and "East Sea" have completely different origins and meanings. "Oriental Sea" refers to the sea of the Orient from the perspective of the Occident, while "East Sea" means the sea on the eastern side of the Korean peninsula.

(b) Japan's survey is more comprehensive than the ROK survey of the same collections.

Japan's survey of historical maps in France's national libraries included 1,495 maps(see item5). The ROK's survey of the same institutions, on the other hand, consists of only 515, or approximately one-third of the Japanese survey's total, therefore yielding completely different results. It is evident that Japan's survey is more comprehensive.

3. Japan emphatically refutes those assertions which have no solid foundation.

Some maps in use within the ROK use "East Sea" for the sea on the east side, "West Sea" for the sea on the west side, and "South Sea" for the sea on the south side of the Korean peninsula. Japan does not presume to challenge the use of the name "East Sea" by the ROK in its domestic publications or media.

However, Japan cannot accept the assertion to change the name of the Sea of Japan--the name actually used in the international community--to the purely domestic ROK term "East Sea" and to make this an international standard, as the confusion would necessarily have an adverse effect on the safety of international maritime traffic. Sea of Japan is the only internationally established name, a fact for which there is no room for debate. Japan emphatically refutes the assertions of the ROK and North Korea made at the UNCSGN, IHO and other international conferences.

(1) Activities by the UNCSGN and the UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names

(2) Japan's Actions at the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)

4. The United Nations as well as the Government of the United States officially uses the name Sea of Japan.

(1) United Nations' Policy

The United Nations (UN) recognized Sea of Japan as the standard geographical term in March 2004, and UN policy states that the standard geographical term be used in official UN publications. The UN Secretariat has further clarified its stance on the issue by affirming the need to observe prevailing practice to ensure fairness and neutrality, stating that "without taking sides on the issue, the simultaneous use of both [Sea of Japan and 'East Sea'] infringes on the neutrality of the United Nations."

(2) Policy of the United States and Other Major Countries

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, an agency of the Government of the United States, has formally recognized and acknowledged Sea of Japan as the sole official name for the sea area concerned. All federal agencies of the United States are required to use the name Sea of Japan. Other agencies within the United States are strongly encouraged to use the term as well. The governments of other major countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany and China, officially use the name Sea of Japan.

5. It is verified by a survey of historical maps from around the world conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan that the name Sea of Japan is the only internationally established name for the sea area concerned.

The survey conducted by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that,although various names including the Sea of Japan "Sea of Korea," "Oriental Sea" and "Sea of China" were used in maps published in Western countries by the end of 18th century, the name Sea of Japan has been overwhemingly used since the beginning of 19th century.

(1) The study of maps possessed by the British Library and the University of Cambridge

(2) The study of maps possessed by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France

(3) The study of maps possessed by the United States Library of Congress

(4) The study of maps in the Russian Federation

(5) The study of maps in Germany

6. The Government of the Republic of Korea(ROK) has recently published a survey that can be interpreted as withdrawing a part of its own assertion.

In November 2007, the ROK's National Geographic Information Institute (NGII), an agency of the Ministry of Construction and Transportation (currently the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs), published a survey of historical maps. Although the NGII's survey contains the same flaws (outlined above in item2(4)) , what is notable is that the report states that "there was a rapid increase in the use of the name Sea of Japan from the 19th century (1830 onward)" (italics added).

This clearly shows the fallacy of the ROK's assertion that the name 8Sea of Japan was the result of the Japanese policy of expansionism and colonial rule (item2(1)), and can be interpreted as affirming that the name Sea of Japan was in widespread use well before Japan's colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.