[Silver Prize Winner] Dokdo: Korean Islets
WASHINGTON ― Dokdo has been the Korean islets since Silla General Isabu conquered Usanguk, which was composed of Ulleungdo and surrounding small islands and islets. It was 512 A.D. Since then, the Korean people have never thought Dokdo is out of their sovereignty and is separable from Ulleung-do. Of course, the names of Ulleungdo and Dokdo have been changed over time. The old historians and map drawers recorded these names and locations erroneously over time. However, such old historical records and drawings cannot deny the Korean sovereignty over the Ulleungdo Island and its surrounding islets, including Dokdo.
Dokdo has been the no man's islets because there was no drinking water available.
Therefore, the Korean people could be ``careless" in describing Dokdo and drawing the location in their old maps. The erroneous description and drawings have provided the Japanese government a false claim for Dokdo. This false claim has become controversial and made Dokdo as disputed islets in world maps. The Korean people feel there should not be any controversy.
Five years before the Japanese government declared Dokdo as its islets in 1905, the Korean government established Dokdo as part of Ulleungdo County. This historical fact alone can convincingly expel the Japanese claim once and for all.
Let me go over the Japanese false claim: The Korean people did not have a clear understanding of the presence of Dokdo. The Japanese government provided significant evidence from the Annals of King Sejong, Vol. 153, printed in 1432, which described the distance from Ulnungdo to Dokdo, ``It is not very far and Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo on a fine day." This description made a Japanese claim that Jooksuhdo was Dokdo. However, Jooksuhdo is just next to Ulleungdo. Modern geographers measured the distance as 54 miles or 87 kilometers. So the distance in the Annals may be not accurate. It should have been recorded as ``very far." I do not understand why the Joseon court historians recorded a false distance. However, the second part of the description is correct, ``Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo on a fine day."
However, Kawakami Kenzo, Japanese scholar, mathematically used a formula and denied the visibility on a fine day in his most significant document in 1966 on Takeshima, the Japanese name for Dokdo. I do not know whether he visited Ulleungdo and attempted to see Dokdo. I doubt it.
In 1919, a Japanese visitor of Ulleungdo reported the visibility. Then, Joseon was under the Japanese rule and even today all people with 20/20 vision can see Dokdo from Ulleungdo. Anyone with normal eyesight can see Dokdo from Ulleungdo 55 days out of a year. Fine days are not that many. So Kawakami Kenzo could have visited Ulleungdo on a cloudy or rainy day. But I do not understand his mathematical formula, his powerful tool to argue that the visibility was not possible at all.
Fishermen in Ulleungdo could see Dokdo in the sixth century. They knew the presence of Dokdo because they could see it on a fine day and sailed to the islets. They could have enjoyed fishing around Dokdo, because it was a great fishing ground. It is the sea of warm and cold currents. I assume that all Ulleungdo people have been sailing to Dokdo for fishing on fine days since the sixth century or before.
I trust fishermen's instinct. They could have harvested all kinds of fish and seaweed, sea urchin and abalone. The Japanese government did not believe the fisherman's instinct in ancient times. They were wrong. I can see the ants coming to a sweet food in my house from a distance. Even small birds come to the place where their food is. Fishermen's intelligence must be higher than the ants, birds, and wild animals. Human intelligence was remarkably high in primitive society.
Let me go over various names. Ulleungdo and Mulnungdo were once mixed in use. Dokdo has once been called Usando, Sambongdo, Kajido, Doldom, Doksom and Sokdo.
The last three names meant the same as Dokdo in the Korean people's hangul and Chinese characters. Usando must be inherited from Usanguk, a tribal nation, when Silla conquered it in 512 A.D. Usando remained for a long time as the name of Dokdo in the Korean history books. Then, it became called Sambongdo. I can easily see the meaning of Sambongdo, because Dokdo can be seen as a ``three-peaked island." Almost all photos of Dokdo from a distance show a three peaked island from the East Islet and the West Islet. It could be confusing, but the modern photos prove Dokdo is the same as Sambongdo. Kajido means the island of seals. There were many seals on Dokdo years ago. So the Korean fishermen called Dokdo as Kajido.
Various names were all legitimate to prove that the Korean people knew the presence of Dokdo. Various names would enhance the legitimacy of Dokdo as the Korean territory.
Japan's false claim is based upon the unscientific ancient description of Dokdo in the Korean history books. Needless to say, the distance of the historians in Seoul and the fishermen in Ulleungdo was far in the 15th century. I guess the fishermen's description and drawing of Dokdo were distorted in the distance between the two places. However, the Japanese government used the erroneous description and drawing for their false claim that the Korean people did not know about the presence of Dokdo before Dokdo, or Takeshima, the Japanese name of Dokdo, was incorporated in the Shimane prefecture in 1905 as the first act of Japanese imperialism. Japan's territorial ambition was manifested in its northern policy and southern policy, resulting in serious conflicts with Russia and China that we see today.
The Japanese government also presented a ridiculous claim that the Korean government did not protest its 1905 declaration. That is ridiculous because Korea was already under Japanese control. The Joseon Kingdom lost its diplomatic power to Japan. After Japan won the wars with China and Russia, Korea was lost in Japanese imperialism around the turn of the century. In the 15th century, the Japanese people did not have any clear knowledge on Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Two fishing families sailed to Ulleungdo and Dokdo for a bountiful harvest in the 16th century.
However, the Tokugawa government declared Dokdo was part of Joseon, because it was closer to Ulleungdo, in comparison to Oki Island, part of Shimane Prefecture in the 17th century. In 1881, the Japanese government reconfirmed Korean ownership of Ulleungdo and put a ban on the Japanese voyage to Ulleungdo. The Tokugawa Japan thought Dokdo was part of Ulleungdo, but the Japanese imperialists wanted to separate Dokdo from Ulleungdo and attach it to Japan in the 20th century.
The revival of the Japanese imperialism in the recent years is sadly deplorable. Japan's territorial claim over Dokdo islets represents a colonial legacy in a post-colonial world. Japan needs a postcolonial sensitivity necessary for its superpower image in this world.
Dokdo has been part of Ulleungdo since the sixth century and Ulleungdo has been an island of Korea since the sixth century.
The writer works as a senior employee in the U.S. federal government in Washington, D.C. He received his doctorate degree in geography from the University of Washington and has taught at the University of South Florida.