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The proper name of the sea lying between Korea and Japan has been the subject of intense academic research as well as a diplomatic row over the past decades as the two nations on each side of the body of water have been using different names for it. Korea calls it the "East Sea" while Japan named it the "Sea of Japan." The international community, which has predominantly favored the "Sea of Japan" title, is beginning to pay attention to Korea's assertion that the "East Sea" version be restored as it was international power politics that gave "Sea of Japan" the status it enjoys today.

A number of scholars in each country have devoted a significant portion of their academic activities in conducting historical study of the proper name of the sea. This book is the outcome of strenuous efforts made by the Society for East Sea, comprised of professors at Seoul National University and several other reputed schools of higher learning, to determine the historically correct name for the sea. It outlines the historical background of the name and analyzes the results of a study of old world maps preserved in the British National Library. It also provides an account of the process through which the term "Sea of Japan" gained international acceptance in the first half of the 20th century, the time when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule.

Historically, the sea area between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago has been called "East Sea" in the maps and writings of Korea and China because the sea lies to the east of the continent. At one time, the Chinese referred to the body of water as (whale)(sea) because the sea was rich in whales. The first group of Russian explorers who traveled along the eastern coast of the Eurasian Continent in the 17th century used the term "Eastern Sea." However, maps published in Europe in later years described the sea with various names, including "Sea of Korea," "Sea of Japan" or "Oriental Sea."

As part of their research, members of the Society for East Sea examined a large collection of old maps dating back to the 18th century that are preserved in the British National Library. Of the 90 maps which gave a name to the sea between Korea and Japan, 72 referred to the sea as "Sea of Korea" or "East Sea" (or their equivalent in other languages). This means that most of the European maps that were published until the 18th century recognized the sea as "Sea of Korea" or "East Sea." Since the mid-to-late 19th century, "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan," instead of "Sea of Korea," were commonly used. It was at the 1929 International Hydrographic Organization meeting that the very first public decision designating the East Sea as "Sea of Japan" was made. At the time, Korea was under the Japanese colonial rule, and the incorrect and unjust name has been widely used until this day.

The Republic of Korea joined the United Nations in 1991 and ever since Korea has raised the issue of the proper name for the sea between Korea and Japan at various UN forums and IHO meetings. Seoul called for the two terms "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" to be used together, based on the resolution of the UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographic Names (III-20) and the IHO Technical Resolution. These resolutions endorsed the principle of simultaneous recognition of different names for a shared geographic feature when the concerned countries do not agree on a common name. As Korea's cause gained support from the international community, major international map-makers, geography textbooks and a number of official reports began to use both names, usually putting one of the two names in parenthesis. Some maps are making no reference to the sea because of the dispute over the name. Korea asked the United Nations and IHO to take due actions to make the simultaneous usage of the two terms official, as has been done in other similar conflicts. Unfortunately, Japan is not accepting Korea's argument on the ground that the name "Sea of Japan" is already widely accepted, and that the introduction of another name would cause confusion.

Every geographical name on earth has a unique identity that reflects the history and culture of the area. International norms and practices require that geographical names conform with the usage of the residents of the area. First and foremost, we believe that to adopt an internationally acceptable name for the sea between Korea and Japan is necessary from the standpoint of removing one of the vestiges of Japanese colonialism. We do not believe that the international community should condone the use of a name that was decided upon unreasonably and without the consent of a party directly involved. Out of respect for the sovereignty of states and to reflect accurate understanding of history behind geographical names, it is important to correctly use the proper name for a body of water, land mass or mountain disputed by two or more nations. This is the way to maintain friendship and peace in the region. As the first step toward resolving this issue, we urge Japan to accept the rule of using the two terms together in compliance with the UN and IHO resolutions. Continued international consultations are needed to arrive at the most acceptable solution to the issue.

For your reference, this book has in its appendices the lists and copies of maps that we have examined at the British National Library.

Prof. Lee Ki-suk
The Society for East Sea

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