'East Sea' Name Gains International Traction

      August 23, 2010 11:48

      Tokyo's assertion that "Sea of Japan" is the only acceptable reference to the body of water between Korea and the island country is losing international appeal. Experts at the International Conference on Ocean Names in the Hague in the Netherlands on Friday and Saturday questioned the unilateral use of the name.

      More and more maps published around the world use both the names "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan." Last year, an Austrian geographical committee instructed publishers to use both in the country's print and broadcast media. Bulgaria, Turkey and the National Geographic Society of the U.S. have followed suit.

      Choo Sung-jae, a professor at Kyunghee University and secretary general of the East Sea Research Society, said that in 2000, the name "East Sea" was used along with "Sea of Japan" in only 2.8 percent of published materials, but this rose to 18.1 percent in 2005 and to 23.6 percent in 2007, according to studies.

      Japan's Sankei Shimbun reported on Sunday that major media and publishing companies in Europe are opting to use both references. Three major cartographers in the U.K. including Times Atlases have begun using both.

      In 1929, when the International Hydrographic Organization first stipulated the name "Sea of Japan" to denote the East Sea, Korea had no say in the matter because it was under Japanese colonial occupation, said John Rennie Short, a professor at the University of Maryland. The "Sea of Japan" moniker is purely a product of colonialism. The U.S. accepted it because it used maps of Korea made by Japan when the two became allies after the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War.

      In other words, the U.S. was in no position at the time to weigh the international legitimacy. Cheng Long, a professor at Beijing Language and Culture University, said, "For almost a thousand years in China, we have used the name 'East Sea' to denote the body of water separating the Korean peninsula and the island of Japan." He added research into cartographic records left by a Qing Dynasty (1794-1857) scholar and court official showed that a map made during the Yuan Dynasty (1260-1368) used the name "East Sea."

      Park Noh-hyung, a Korea University law professor and the chairman of the East Sea Research Society, said, "At a working group meeting of the IHO in Singapore last month, officials proposed using both names. It’s an encouraging sign that shows that consensus is building."

      The latest seminar in the Hague also focused on how the references would be used together. Milan Orozen Adamic, president of the Commission for Standardization of Geographical Names at the Geographical Institute in Slovenia, said, "The rational choice would be to use the name 'East Sea/Sea of Japan' in alphabetical order."

      The conference, co-hosted by the East Sea Research Society and the Northeast Asian History Foundation, featured around 20 research papers written by 30 experts from 12 countries around the world. For the first time, two Japanese scholars also attended.

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