The international name for the body of water which is bordered by Japan, North Korea, Russia, and South Korea is disputed. The Japanese government supports the use of the name "Sea of Japan", while South Korea supports the name "East Sea", and North Korea supports the name "East Sea of Korea". Currently, most international maps and documents use either the name Sea of Japan (or equivalent translation) by itself, or include both the name Sea of Japan and East Sea, often with East Sea listed in parentheses or otherwise marked as a secondary name.
The involved countries (especially Japan and South Korea) have advanced a variety of arguments to support their preferred name(s). Many of the arguments revolve around determining when the name Sea of Japan became the common name. South Korea argues that historically the more common name was East Sea, Sea of Korea, or another similar variant. South Korea further argues that the name Sea of Japan did not become common until Korea was under Japanese rule, at which time it had no ability to influence international affairs. Japan argues that the name Sea of Japan has been the most common international name since at least the beginning of the 19th century, long before its occupation of Korea. Both sides have conducted studies of antiquarian maps, but the two countries have produced divergent research results. Additional arguments have been raised regarding the underlying geography of the sea as well as potential problems regarding the ambiguity of one name or the other.
Both sides in the dispute have put forward a number of arguments to support their claims.
Arguments based on historical maps
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Korea, the name East Sea has been used in Korea for over 2,000 years, including in History of the Three Kingdoms' (三國史記, 1145), the monument of King Gwanggaeto, and "Map of Eight Provinces of Korea" (八道總圖, 1530). The first documented map to name the area the Sea of Japan was the world map drawn by the Italian missionary Matteo Ricci in China (1602). No Japanese record published up to the late-18th century indicated any name for the body of water. Furthermore, South Korea has pointed out that a few 19th-century Japanese maps referred to the sea as the Sea of Joseon (Korea), including the "Simplified Map of Japan's Periphery" (日本邊界略圖, 1809) and "New World Map" (新製輿地全圖, 1844).
Much of the dispute boils down to the disagreement over when Sea of Japan became the de facto standard on international maps. South Korea argues there was no standard name prior to Japan's military expansion in the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Additionally, it specifically states that the name Sea of Japan was not widely used, even in Japan, as late as the mid 19th century.[dubious ] Thus, South Korea argues that the current name reflects active promotion by Japan during a time when Korea could not represent its interests internationally.
The Japanese government, on the other hand, claims that the name Sea of Japan was internationally established by the early 19th century, during a period in which Japan was under an isolationist policy (Sakoku). Accordingly, they state, Japan could not have, at that time, had an influence on the international community regarding the naming of the sea.
Surveys of antiquarian maps
|Century||16th century||17th century||18th century||19th century||Unknown||Total|
|Sea of Japan||1||0||1||2||-||3||14||5||22||17||47||24||23||2||96||36||1059||206||487||27||50||1829||69||10||1110||254||516||29||50||1959||122|
|Sea of Korea||0||2||0||2||-||2||4||2||8||39||94||49||159||5||307||341||92||6||37||4||8||147||60||7||188||68||198||9||8||471||440|
|Sea of China||3||5||12||25||16||11||36||18||86||28||8||6||8||1||56||10||0||5||1||0||-||32||-||4||22||56||39||1||-||203||54|
To provide evidence for the date when Sea of Japan came to be used internationally, both South Korea and Japan have undertaken surveys of various historical maps.
South Korea surveyed ancient maps archived in the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, the University of Southern California (USC) East Asian Map Collection, the U.S. Library of Congress, the National Library of Russia, and the French National Library examined 762 maps. They found that 440 maps had used Sea of Korea (Corea), Oriental Sea, or East Sea, 122 had used Sea of Japan, and 200 had used other terms.
Japan has conducted a number of surveys of different collections. Their study of 1,332 maps from the Berlin Library found that 279 used Sea of Korea, Oriental Sea, or East Sea (or some combination thereof), 579 used Sea of Japan exclusively, 47 used China Sea (with or without other names), 33 used another term, and 384 used no term. A study of the Struck collection (a collection of antiquarian maps owned by a European map collector) found that, out of 79 maps, 35 used Sea of Japan, nine used the Sea of Korea, two used Oriental Sea, and 33 were unmarked. A survey of four Russian libraries and document archives found that, of 51 maps, 29 used Sea of Japan, eight used Sea of Korea, one used Korea Strait, one used East Sea, one used Sea of China, and 11 used no name. A survey of 1,213 maps from the U.S. Library of Congress that gave a name for this body of water found that 87 percent used Sea of Japan, eight percent used Sea of Korea, five percent used other terms, and none used Oriental Sea or East Sea. Meanwhile, a survey of 58 maps from the British Library and the University of Cambridge that gave a name for this body of water found that 86 percent used Sea of Japan, 14 percent used Sea of Korea, and none used Oriental Sea, East Sea, or other terms. A survey of 215 maps in the French National Library that gave a name for this body of water found that 95 percent used Sea of Japan, three percent used Sea of Korea, none used Oriental Sea or East Sea, and two percent used other terms.
Japan argues that, the name Sea of Japan has been and should be used because the marginal sea is separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Japanese Archipelago. Korea argues that the adjective "East" describes its geographical position east of the Asian continent, although it is west of Japan and south of Russia. It states that this is analogous to the North Sea, which lies north of the European continent, but west of Scandinavian countries and east of Great Britain.
Arguments relating to ambiguity
The Japanese Hydrographic and Oceanographic Department of the Japanese Coast Guard has claimed that the name East Sea is unsuitable as an international geographic name, because the local name for a variety of seas can be translated into English as East Sea. Examples include Dōng Hǎi (东海), the Chinese name for the East China Sea; Biển Đông, the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea; and the Baltic Sea, which means East Sea in several European languages such as German (Ostsee), Swedish (Östersjön) and Finnish (Itämeri). In addition, East Sea (東海, Tōkai) is not the Sea of Japan but the Pacific Ocean in the Japanese context. The regions on the east coast of Japan were named accordingly as Tōkaidō region and Tōkai region.
Position of international bodies
International Hydrographic Organization
The International Hydrographic Organization is an organization that coordinates with member countries over hydrographic issues. One of the organization's functions is to help set international standards on the naming and delineation of nautical regions. In 1929, the organization (then called the International Hydrographic Bureau) published "IHO Special Publication 23" (IHO SP 23), which established the name of the sea as Sea of Japan; however, at that time, Korea could not participate in the IHO because it was under Japanese rule. South Korea officially joined the IHO in 1957.
In 1974, IHO released Technical Resolution A.4.2.6. This resolution stated that:
It is recommended that where two or more countries share a given geographical feature (such as a bay, a strait, channel or archipelago) under different names, they should endeavor to reach agreement on a single name for the feature concerned. If they have different official languages and cannot agree on a common name form, it is recommended that the name forms of each of the languages in question should be accepted for charts and publications unless technical reasons prevent this practice on small scale charts.
South Korea has argued that this resolution is relevant to the debate about the Sea of Japan and implies that both names should be used; Japan, however, argues that the resolution does not apply to the Sea of Japan, because it does not specify this body of water and only applies to geographical features for which sovereignty is shared between two or more countries.
The IHO agreed to conduct a survey available evidence in 2011, and is expected to release results at the end of 2011. Previously, South Korea had been pushing the IHO to recommend only using the term East Sea, but announced on 2 May 2011, that it now preferred the gradual approach of using both names now, and eventually dropping the Sea of Japan name.
On 8 August 2011, a spokesman for the United States Department of State stated that the United States Board on Geographic Names considered the official name of the sea to be "Sea of Japan." According to Yonhap, the US has officially recommended to the IHO that "Sea of Japan" remain as the official name for the sea. In response to this failure of the Korean campaign, Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan suggested advocating other historical names, such as "Sea of Korea".
While the United Nations has never directly addressed the issue of establishing an official, standardized name for the sea, several resolutions and statements by the UN have had relevance to the topic. Japan joined the United Nations in 1956, while South and North Korea both joined in 1991.
In 1977, the third UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN) adopted Resolution III/20, entitled "Names of Features beyond a Single Sovereignty". The resolution recommended that "when countries sharing a given geographical feature do not agree on a common name, it should be a general rule of cartography that the name used by each of the countries concerned will be accepted. A policy of accepting only one or some of such names while excluding the rest would be inconsistent as well as inexpedient in practice." As with IHO Technical Resolution A.4.2.6, South Korea and Japan disagree about whether or not this policy applies to the Sea of Japan.
In 1992, during the 1992 Sixth UNCSGN, the South Korean government, in their first time participating in UNCSGN, requested that the name of the sea be determined through consultation, which the North Korean representative concurred with. The Japanese representative stated that the name of the Sea of Japan had already been accepted worldwide and that any change would introduce confusion. The conference recommended that the parties work together on the issue outside of the conference.
In 1998, South Korea raised the issue again at the Seventh UNCSGN. Japan, however, opposed the method by which the South Korean government proposed the issue, arguing that they had not followed the proper procedure for doing so. Following some debate, Korea withdrew the issue, and instead recommended that the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names work so that a resolution could be submitted to the Eighth UNSCGN conference. The president of the conference urged that Japan, South Korea, and North Korea work towards a mutually acceptable agreement.
At the Eighth UNCSGN in 2002, South Korea and Japan presented a number of papers to the conference regarding their positions on the naming issue. South Korea asked for a resolution to adjudicate the name, while Japan asked that the name be decided through resolution outside of the conference. No resolution was passed, and the Committee again urged the countries to develop a mutually agreeable solution. The Chairman further noted that standardization could only occur after consensus had been reached. The same situation occurred at the Ninth conference in 2007. South Korea and North Korea both proposed a resolution by the UNCSGN, while Japan expressed a desire to settle the matter outside of the conference, and the Committee urged the members to seek a mutual agreement.
On 23 April 2004, the United Nations affirmed in a written document to the Japanese government that it will continue using the name Sea of Japan in its official documents. However, it agreed to leave the topic open for further discussion. In a letter to South Korea, it was explained that the UN was not determining the validity of either name, but wished to use the term most widely used until the parties resolved the disagreement. The letter further stated, "The use of an appellation by the Secretariat based on the practice is without prejudice to any negotiations or agreements between the interested parties and should not be interpreted as advocating or endorsing any party's position, and can in no way be invoked by any party in support of a particular position in the matter." 
Response of media and publishers
A number of maps, encyclopedias, and other publications have switched to using both names. For example, the Manual of Style of the National Geographic Society states that disputed place-names in international waters or jointly controlled by two or more countries should use the conventional name first with other names following in parentheses. As such, their policy on this sea states that "The internationally accepted name is Sea of Japan, although Korea prefers East Sea. When scale permits, Geographic maps show the alternative name East Sea in parentheses after Sea of Japan."
In 2006, Google put both names on Google Earth, using East Sea near the Korean coast and Sea of Japan near the Japanese coast. In the 2007 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, the primary article is called "Sea of Japan". A secondary article called "East Sea" notes "see Japan, Sea of." On the encyclopedia's map of Japan and other Asia maps, Sea of Japan appears as the primary label and East Sea appears as a secondary label in parentheses. However, on the map of Korea the name East Sea appears as the primary label and Sea of Japan appears as a secondary label in parentheses. Other examples of publishers who use similar systems include Microsoft Encarta, the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, and About.com.
Russia calls this sea Япо́нское мо́ре (Yapónskoye móre, Japanese Sea). Chinese government websites exclusively use the name 日本海 (rìběnhǎi, Japan Sea). In 2003, the French Defense Ministry issued nautical maps that included both terms Sea of Japan and East Sea. It reverted to Sea of Japan as a single name in the map issued in 2004.
As of August 2006, the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) continues to advocate the use of Sea of Japan without qualification in U.S. government publications. The World Factbook published by the Central Intelligence Agency follows the BGN's guidance.
On 18 November 2006, during the APEC summit in Hanoi, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun informally proposed to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe that the sea be called instead the “Sea of Peace” or "Sea of Friendship". However, in January 2007 Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki opposed the idea saying there was "No need to change name of Sea of Japan".
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