The Difference between the Korean and the Japanese Perspectives on “Dokdo”

The arguments about Dokdo issue between the Japanese and the Korean people seem to be gradually increasing with the Senkaku(“Diaoyu” in Chinese) territorial issue. I think that there is the fundamental difference between the Japanese and the Korean Perspectives on Dokdo issue and to understand it is very important to solve this problem. So I am writing this to help citizens of the world understand such a difference.

“Dokdo” has historically and administratively been under Korean control and regarded as Korean territory. But, in more recent history, in addition to the territorial aspect of Dokdo, it has come to symbolize imperial Japanese aggression toward Korea when Japan seized the island during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and Japanese forcible takeover and brutal occupation of Korea from 1905-1945.

Korea does not see the Dokdo issue just as a territorial dispute over an island, which Korea has always considered its territory from ancient times. It is also a historical issue regarding whether the Japanese are willing to accept responsibility for the enormous suffering it has inflicted on the Korean people and whether they are willing to respect the inviolability of Korean sovereignty.

On the other hand, Japan regards the Dokdo issue merely as a territorial dispute, and not a historical one, in order to achieve its goal of claiming the island as its own in the eyes of the international community.

Observing Korean history up to the Russo-Japanese War (Feb. 1904 to May. 1905), one can find historical record of Silla, an ancient Korean kingdom, conquering the State of Usan (Usan-guk) in A.D. 512, which controlled the Dokdo island. Since that time Koreans have regarded Dokdo as its own territory. In 1697, the Korean Chosun court sent government officials to inspect and manage Ulleng-do and Dokdo every three years. The 1809 government record reconfirms that “Ulleng-do and Usan-do (Dokdo) were Usan-guk territory” and in 1900 the Korean Daehan Empire established “Ulldo County” to manage Ulleng-do, Jook-do, and Suk-do (same as Dokdo), and in May of 1906 once again proclaimed Dokdo to be its territory to counter and invalidate the Japanese notification of incorporation of Dokdo into its jurisdiction.

In examining the extant Japanese records on Dokdo, the 1667 record, the first Japanese record on Ulleng-do and Dokdo, states the two islands are not Japanese territory, but “Goryeo (name of medieval Korean dynasty)” territory and the 1695 record shows that the Japanese central government (bakufu) acknowledged Ulleng-do and Dokdo as Chosun territory. In 1785, the famous Japanese geologist, Hayashi Shihei, recorded Ulleng-do and Dokdo as Chosun territory in a map, and the geology textbooks for students and government’s public maps of the Japanese Empire in the late 19th century and early 20th century also marked the two islands as Korean territory.

It was not until February of 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War, that the Japanese imperial government named Dokdo as “Takeshima” and covertly incorporated it under the jurisdiction of Oki Island in Shimane Prefecture and built a watchtower on the island. Shimane Prefecture notified the incorporation of Dokdo to the minister of Uldo County only in March of 1906.

Therefore, the Japanese Empire occupied and incorporated Dokdo only for the purpose of carrying out its war against Russia (the Russo-Japanese War), but had formerly recognized the island as Korean territory. The Russo-Japanese War was started by the Japanese Empire to secure its dominance over the Korean Peninsula and used the war as a pretext to militarily occupy Korea and force the Korean imperial court to sign the “Japanese-Korea Protocol” in February of 1904, thereby depriving Korea of its rights to military, finance, and diplomacy. Afterwards, Japan incorporated Dokdo into its territory in order to use the island in the war against Russia and in 1910 formally annexed Korean as a colony of Japan.

After the fall of Japanese Empire in 1945, the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (U.S.) excluded Ulleng-do and Dokdo as a part of Japanese territory through “Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Instruction Note No. 677” (SCAPIN No. 677). In the peace treaty that was concluded with Japan in 1951 during the Korean War, the mention of “Dokdo” as Korean territory was eliminated from the last draft of the peace treaty after persistent lobbying from the Japanese side. However, since the provision in the treaty affirmed the validity of “the effect of all instructions proclaimed by the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers”, the effect of SCAPIN No. 677 was that it upheld South Korea’s possession of Dokdo, thereby rendering the current Japanese argument of the legal basis for its claim on Dokdo unreasonable and obstinate.

The persistent claim of Japan on Dokdo, in other words, is merely a claim on its right to possess past colonial territory gained through invasion. This claim, thus, is an act of denying Korea’s complete liberation and independence from Japan. Moreover it is an act justifying invasion and massacres carried out by the Japanese Empire against Korea; and forty years of colonial rule in which the Japanese plundered Korean resources, tortured and imprisoned innocent Koreans, and forcibly mobilized Korean workers to aid Japan in WW II, and even forcibly mobilized Korean young women as sexual slaves to service Japanese soldiers in WWII.

The visit of the Korean President Lee Myung-bak to Dokdo as a legitimate act of sovereign government, which fulfilled the desires of the Korean people, was a call for the Japanese government and people to sincerely reflect on its history and to demonstrate the Korean people’s implacable will to defend Korean sovereignty of Dokdo.

Japan must rid itself of its dark and tragic historical past. It must have correct view of its own history and accept full responsibility for it. It must also embrace the principle of mutual respect between sovereign countries.

The Korean people no longer demand apologies from Japan. They demand only actions by the Japanese government and people that lend credibility to the numerous apologies that Japan has made to Koreans. They demand only that Japan cease from distorting history in order to justify it and teaching that history to its students, which can only be seen as a grievous insult to the sovereignty of Korea and the self-respect of its people. Thank you!

*For further information, please read “South Korea’s Irresponsible Diplomacy with Japan” by Professor Jeffery W. Hornung of Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii ( and “Japan’s claim to Dokdo illegitimate” by Russian scholar Valeriy V. Glushkov (

One Response to The Difference between the Korean and the Japanese Perspectives on “Dokdo”

  1. Pingback: ‘독도 문제’에 대한 한일의 관점이 다른 이유 | 아시아엔

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