Bamboo v. Lonesome

Japan Focus has a “three-fer” this week on the Korean-Japanese dispute over a rock. Well, technically “islets” but it’s just rocks about big enough for a large playground: What the Koreans call Tokdo (Lonesome Island) and the Japanese, less literally, call Takeshima (Bamboo Island) , has been a matter of territorial dispute for years, mostly because of the attendant fishing rights that come with the extension of territory. There’s a nice short introduction with maps and two articles from the Japanese press. Both countries have issued competing commemorative stamps (both of which sold out in record time), activists in both countries are calling for boycotts, and diplomatic relations are at a recent low, even as the countries are moving towards NAFTA-style integration.

As Takahashi reports, Japan claimed the islands in 1905, around the time that it forced Korea to become a Japanese protectorate (annexation would come in 1910), and though Korea proclaimed the islands reclaimed after liberation in WWII, the specifics of control of the islands have been left unresolved by mutual agreement in every agreement signed between the two countries since; a temporary agreement in 1999 for joint control remains technically in force. The matter has been heating up since the early 1980s, with South Korea taking the strongest practical steps (declaring the islands a national park, for example) but rogue Japanese elements actually trying to occupy the rocks have kept the matter actively disputed.

Tokyo U Emeritus Historian WADA Haruki has been actively working for closer relations, including normalization of relations with North Korea, in East Asia for years, and points out that it is difficult to imagine this region stabilizing without settling the three major territorial disputes Japan is involved in. Takeshima/Tokdo, Daiyou/Senkaku (Japan v. China, Vietnam, Australia, Taiwan, etc) and Kurile/Sakhalin dispute with Russia. The first two have economic consequences: fertile fishing ground in the first case, and potentially valuable natural gas reserves in the second; the third one is more about honor and diplomatic technicalities than anything else.

Non Sequitur: According to a recent poll

…a generational divide emerges when Americans are asked whether they approve of the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. Six in 10 Americans 65 and older approve of the use of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, while six in 10 from 18 to 29 disapprove. Albert Kauzmann, a 57-year-old resident of Norcross, Ga., said using the bomb in 1945 “was the best way they had of ending” World War II. Overall, 47 percent of those surveyed approved of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while 46 percent disapproved, according to the poll of 1,000 conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs from March 21-23 with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

I want to note that, if my math is correct, the 29-65 year olds were dead even on the question, and given the margin of error reported even the generational divide itself could be less than reported. No word on whether this represents a change from the past, whether people change their minds about these things as they grow older, or what we should do about it. The rest of the poll is about contemporary nuclear weapons issues, and is quite interesting for the disconnect between policy and popular preference….

[crossposted at Cliopatria]


  1. Let me tell you one thing about Dokdo. I’ve been singing a song about dokdo
    from when I was young, and I remember some parts of it. That is about Dokdo’s geographical
    fact, and the last lyric is ‘Tsushima is a Japanese territory, Dokdo is our territory.
    (You can see the whole lyrics of Dokdo song, the correct name is Dokdo is our territory.
    -> see this site ;’
    I’ve belived in Dokdo’s our territory because of the song(I was so young to know
    the dispute between two countries.)
    Now two countries show historical facts to support their assertions, but I’m not sure
    what is coherent consequence disputing past territorical right.
    All members understand my english? I hope so. I’m still learning to write correct english.
    That’s why I write my comment again in Japanese.


  2. It is amusing that governments would still fight over these useful strips of land. Spain and Morocco had a mini war over Tourah/Perejil, another useless rock, largely fought with security guards who fired no shots. But at least the Moroccan invasion was meant to force Spain into negotiations over other issues.

  3. Do you know why the Japanese call it the Bamboo Island (Take=bamboo, Shima=island) when there are no bamboos on the piece of rock? (In Korean, Dok=lonesome/solitary, Do=island)

    You see, the Koreans had a claim on Dokdo since around the 7th century CE. The name Dokdo (Lonesome Island) is accurate because the island is really just in the middle of nowhere. Then some Japanese fisherman “discovered” the island around the 17th century or something, and asked the government for permission to fish around that area, then later to claim that island as their own. Very well. The Japanese language cannot pronounce Dok in Dokdo, so they twisted it around till they got something close, like Take.

    Even the name of the island proves that this troublesome piece of island has belonged, and still does, to Korea!

  4. Oh, I found another Korean who don’t know “松竹梅” numeration….

    And from your opinion, i think the island name
    d “solitary island” should not belong to any country and stay lonesome even now :p

  5. Hi, I am doing a report on viewpoints of the ownership of Takeshima. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Which country do you think should have the ownership of Takeshima/Dokudo?
    2. Why do you think that way?
    3. What should Japan/Korea do to make better the relationship between the two?

  6. Hey Kiekie, some thoughts:
    1-2) I have no proference between the two, but feel that just by posing the question in that way creates a binary (must make a choice between two alternatives) which hides the diversity of other alternative solutions to the crisis. You can see some of my thoughts on this issue here:
    3) I think the governments of the two countries are making sincere efforts towards reconciliation but are constrained by the important developments on the level of domestic politics. On the Japanese side, the current conservative government and its politicians, often support a version of their own history which is designed to preserve the untenable idea that Japan was an innocent and well-meaning liberator as well as a benevolent colonial power in Korea. This historical position and the comments that it generates from politicians is completely unproductive. I personally believe that promoting a move away from national history is a more long term way to resolve some of the historical issues. When pepole’s “national honor” and the “blood of our ancestors” is no longer at stake, the emotions behind many of these issues will become less explosive. I’ll leave my thoughts on short term policies for another occasion.

    One book on Irredentism that I seemed to remember being quite good is on the Diaoyu islands but covers many of the issues that are important in the Takeshima island dispute:

    Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations: Irredentism and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands
    by Unryu Suganuma

  7. I am also doing an essay on this islet(Dokdo or Takeshima)
    I am from Korea and i am only about 15years old

    When I was young, I used to think that Dokdo or Takeshima was Korean’s as their was a song about
    that Islet. However, after I arrived in foreign countries, my thought began to change.

    Even though
    *Korean people are living in Dokdo
    *Japan agreed that Dokdo is Korea’s after the defeat WW2

    Japan still say that Dokdo or Takeshima is theirs.
    They also made a day called ‘Takeshima Day’eventhough there was no evidence or what ever
    to comment like that.

    The takeshima day was made because Japanese government wanted to make the Japanese civilians to
    think that Dokdo or Takeshima is theirs. I think it is also same with the fake history books from Japan
    The reason they do this is because senior Japanese citizens used to work really hard as they thought or
    their factory as their life and worked more than what factory/anykind of job needed.
    But nawadays, Japanese teenagers got affected by the Europeans and is more caring about themsleves then factory
    / their jobs. So the government wants the Japanese citizens to feel more proud of their country so that they can
    work for their country more.

    Also Japanese people say that Dokdo or Takeshima is just a stupid little rock. When they think like that,
    why can’t they just give it up and give it to Korea!
    They have plenty of places to fish but as the ‘EAST SEA(FOR KOREANS AND CHINESE AND ALL THE COUNTRIES WHICH ARE
    IN THE WEST OF THE EAST SEA)’is combination of hot and cold water their are plenty of fish, Japan has plenty of
    sea. They even kill whales than why can’t they just eat whales it just like when Japan attacked Korea
    as they needed land to give when their army general did somthing profitable for Japan and needed awards.
    Now Japan is doing same thing for the fishermens.

  8. Japaneses should better act foolish regarding to the territorial emphasis.
    In France and in Germany, there is a map taken in 1210 which says Korean Sea and Tokdo.
    However, Takeshima?
    Where is that stupid name coming from?
    Japaneses should better stop barking madly and should better act like a kindergarteners.
    Japaneses should better stop their ugly theft.

  9. My name is Nakayama, and I am from Japan.
    I will have to agree that Takeshima isn’t Japanese territory.
    We Japaneses should no longer insist bigotted and prejudiced view on our dirty history.
    We Japaneses should recognize that we had dirty war crime and still doing
    ugly diplomacy all over the world.

  10. I am from the US, and I did a research topic about this several months ago for a class project.
    At the end, we took a vote and out of a class of 30 students, 25 said that the island is rightfully
    to be owned by Japan. The major reason was how South Korea is refusing to go to the International Court
    to settle this dispute whereas Japan has frequently given the option to do so.

  11. Hey Aaron,
    For the last 15 years Japan has been funding the work of International court and placing at least one japanese judge there. This has been obviously providing a better edge to any court case involving japan’s interest. when there is no previous case on an international territorial disput that can be an example to this Tokdo case, if these two countries ever try to settle this case through the International court, the power of the two countries’ diplomacy will determine the potential outcome of the court case. Considering the economic and diplomatic game Japan purposefully play shamelessly in the world including within the area of the International Court, if you were a decision maker of Korea would you take this case to the International court? … Don’t think so. Also, remember that Japan’s known for their weak ethical standpoint in many international issues (e.g. WW2 crimes, whale hunting..etc.)
    My advice to you? It doesn’t hurt to be smart and do some good digging up Aaron…
    we just call it doing good research— a deeper Googling, kid!

  12. oh there are interesting opinion.

    my name is shou. my nationarity is japan. i saw some opinions in above articles.
    smomeone said that the judge of the international court is often subject to the country which is more powerful.→→→it is fault. because usa lost a case by nicaragua in 1986.
    next, why korea deliberately negrect the fact of The Treaty of Peace with Japan and this statement ;Nothing in this directive shall be construed as an indication of Allied policy relating to the ultimate determination of the minor islands referred to in Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration. in the scapin667.
    finally, korea thickly and loudly have insisted on hitorically justice. but this claim includes a lot of contradiction point for example they deliberately mistake
    other island and the island focused on like a 鬱陵島 and 竹島.
    in the next time, im going to present contradiction point of koreans claim .

  13. I don’t understand why Korean’s think Takeshima is their land. It was claimed officialy by Japan in 1905 to have Takeshima under Japan’s region. It was part of our fishing territory since the 17th century. Although Korean’s might of founded first, they never officialy declared. When Japan lost the war, we were to give up any land acquired by force such as the mainland of Korea which Japan invaded in 1910, and we did give those land back. But Takeshima was never acquired with force. The first Korean president after the War drew up some line and calimed it was theirs and sent national guards to defend that island. This is nothing but invasion of Japanese land. Koreans wont go to the international court because they know themselves that they acquired this land illegaly. Japan has a judge in the court? Come on, how lame of an excuse is that. Takeshima is Japan’s land which Korean’s invaded claiming it’s theirs. It will be clear if these two countries goes to court. Stop blaming everything on the war and face the truth, you cowards.

  14. Right now I too am writing a report
    concerning on the diplomatic row between Japan and Korea.
    Well actually I’m only at the point of collecting facts.
    Some said at the top that the Japanese should admit that we had a dirty war crime
    and is doing ugly diplomacy.
    Hello!? ALL countries are.
    There is not a single clean country and Japan should stop barking!?
    Look at Korea, there was even a man cutting himself infront of Japanese embassy.
    Korea even warned Japan that if they were to excute on the nautical charts
    they will go agressive
    Who is the one going mad!?
    I’m sorry that I’m writing in this way
    I like Korea.
    I have many Korean friends.
    and I really don’t care whose islet Takeshima or Tokuto it is
    but I would atleast like everyone to be more calm and see not who is right or wrong,
    but what part of which country’s saying is questionable.
    Goverments have alot in concern.
    They have to think about the nations interests,
    the voices of their supporters(to win votes)
    and all other politician reasons.
    That is why we, the people need to be objective on both sides.
    History cannot answer everything.
    I mean if you take history as a reason, how far should you go?
    and remember every history that is told in each country
    is said in their point of view and tampered in their convienience.
    What I’m am trying to say is that Japan definately have faults
    but Korea does too.

  15. The situation is simple.

    1. Takeshima (Dokdo) is properly a Japanese territory.
    2. It has been under South Korea’s illegal occupation since 1952.
    3. To solve this problem, Tokyo has demanded since 1954 that it should be solved at the Hague Tribunal, but Seoul has rejected it (because they will lose at the Hague).

  16. Is this blog still living?

    All of you must notice that Korea has no ground to claim Dokdo. Korean people always say that they knew Dokdo from 512 AD but it was not Dokdo but possibly Ulleungdo or Jukdo, a small island neighboring Ulleungdo.
    The name of Dokdo is new, it has been said that it was first recognised that some Koreans said the name Dokdo in 1903 or 1904, according to a Japanese document.

    Korean historians may have known this but they can’t say the truth because of Korean government’s anti-Japan policy. If someone says the truth, he will be punished….

    If you want to know the truth, visit the following site:

  17. In 1904, a resident of the Oki Islands, Yozaburo Nakai, requested the government to incorporate Takeshima as a territory and lease it out for the purpose of sea lion hunting. In response to this, the government officially named the islands Takeshima during a cabinet meeting on January 28th 1905, and designated them the property of the Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture. Based on this, the Governor of Shimane Prefecture announced the details in the 40th Shimane Prefectural Report on February 22nd of the same year.

    The islands were also entered in the State Land Register for Oki-no-kuni, District 4 in the same year. All requirements under international law, including the approval of sea lion hunting in accordance with fisheries supervision rules; the construction of a large temporary signpost for passing ships; inspection by the Governor; and site surveys by officials from Shimane Prefecture, Division 3, were carried out to full satisfaction.

    In addition, the fishing dwellings and other buildings put up by Yozaburo Nakai and related parties were used throughout the years, and under effective Japanese control until the end of World War II.

    Therefore Takeshima clearly belongs to JAPAN, NOT KOREA

  18. As I’ve said before, just because all the paperwork’s in order doesn’t mean you’re not an imperialist aggressor.

    There were a few other things going on in 1904-5 which have some bearing on matter….

  19. In France and in Germany, there is a map taken in 1210 which says Korean Sea and Tokdo.

    Japan was discovered by the Portugese ceenturies after.

    How could this happen unless the 1210 map was a lie?

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