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[Opinion] In Error, Korean Information Service Maps Refer to East Sea as Sea of Japan

[Opinion] In Error, Korean Information Service Maps Refer to East Sea as Sea of Japan

Posted September. 16, 2005 06:34,   


I was once told by a Japanese journalist of an effective method to “defeat the right wing.” Japanese intellectuals and journalists expressing progressive views suffer much from protests of the right wing. When they quote the late writer Ryotaro Shiba, however, right-wing forces suddenly fall silent.

Shiba was a writer who glorified the Meiji Restoration, a writer who focused on the Japanese sense of aesthetics, diligence and honesty of the Japanese people, and the heroic aspects of historic figures, so the right wing considers them as being on the same side, the journalist added.

One hero revisited by Shiba was Sakamoto Ryoma, a passionate young man of the Meiji era. He was such a soldier of fortune, someone comparable with Kim Ok-gyun of the enlightenment period in the late Joseon dynasty. His life was cut short when he was assassinated at the age of 32. Nonetheless, he is considered a figure that contributed to the Japanese emperor-oriented power reorganization and established the first conglomerate. Shiba’s novel, “Ryoma Ga Yuku (Roma Goes Ahead),” transformed an ordinary young man into a hero. This is how Ryoma became the favorite historic figure of the Japanese people.

When Ryoma was a child, his mother spread a world map before him to teach him about the vast world. A memorial hall in his hometown, Kochi, plays a movie clip reproducing that moment. Surprisingly, the old Japanese map refers to the sea between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese Islands as the “Sea of Joseon.” So if you ever happen to have a quarrel with a Japanese person over the East Sea, you can always point out that “the map which Ryoma made of your country referred to it as the Sea of Joseon (East Sea), not the Sea of Japan.”

A total of 64 out of 90 ancient maps in the collection of the British Museum call the sea the “East Sea.” In particular, an overwhelming majority of maps made before the 18th century refer to it as the East Sea or the Sea of Corea. Since the 19th century, after Japan started to gain influence and power, the number of maps using the name “Sea of Japan” rose, and we have been putting strenuous efforts, even to this moment, to correct such errors.

It has belatedly been revealed, however, that for several months, the Korean Overseas Information Service (KOIS) has used maps that call the sea the “Sea of Japan” in providing education courses for overseas students here. This is anti-publicity that can never be tolerated. It feels like we are being stabbed in the back.

Kim Chung-sik, Editorial Writer, skim@donga.com