Memories of Old Japan Stir Island Dispute

A new school curriculum in Japan is opening old wounds for its neighbors.

South Korea has recalled its ambassador to protest a government educational guideline that considers two contested islands to be Japanese territory.

The islands, referred to as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, have been under South Korean control since 1953, according to the Korea Herald.

The newspaper reports that Japan’s new guidelines also target four islands currently claimed by Russia.

The new guidelines are set to take affect in April 2012, and recommends stating in both instances that the Korean and Russian claims are in dispute.

The Japan Times reported that the government phrased the statement to both ease South Korean concerns, and also teach patriotism in the classroom.

Ambassador Kwon Chul Hyun acknowledged the strain on relations this is causing.

“Japan has much to lose from this,” he told Japan Today.

Other Korean politicians voiced their distaste for Japan’s announcement, reflecting the two nations’ history of colonization and war.

“Japan’s current actions are no different from that of its imperialist tactics a century ago when it plundered the Korean Peninsula,” said ruling party leader Hong Joon Pyo in a speech Monday at the National Assembly in Seoul.

An article by BBC also noted that possession of the islands is more important to South Korea than good relations with Japan.

In 2005, the Japanese ambassador to South Korea caused a stir when he asserted Japan’s ownership of the area, prompting accusations that Japan was trying to “whitewash” its history of aggression with other nations.

Tensions rose again in 2006, when Japan attempted to conduct a maritime survey of the islands, a move South Korea responded to by stationing patrol boats in the area.

At the time, then-South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki Moon, now U.N. Secretary General, was reported to have said that Japan’s claim was an attempt to distort history.

The two islands are not uninhabited. According to the Japan Times, a small South Korean garrison is stationed there.

The dispute is one of many flashpoints between Japan and its neighbors over its military history; similar complaints emerge whenever Japanese politicians visit the Yasukuni shrine, where a number of soldiers convicted of war crimes — but who are considered heros by nationalists — are buried.

Japan’s territorial dispute has also targeted four islands claimed by Russia following World War II.

The two nations have had strained diplomatic ties over their ownership since then.

The China Post reported that Boris Yeltsin attempted to open talks with Japan in the early 1990s, but met with little success.

The topic was discussed at last week’s G-8 conference the Moscow Times reported, with no resolution being reached between Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

–John Hornberg/


“Korea recalls ambassador to Tokyo”
Korea Herald, July 15, 2008

“Claim to Seoul-held islets strain ties”
Japan Times, July 15, 2008

“Dispute continues between Japan, South Korea over islets”
Japan Times, July 14, 2008

“Fukuda tells Lee Japan will state Takeshima ownership”
Japan Today, July 14, 2008

“Kurils deal linked to economic ties”
Moscow Times, July 9, 2008

“Islands disputed with Japan feel Russia’s boom”
China Post, Sept. 15, 2007

“Seoul and Tokyo hold island talks”
BBC News, April 20, 2006

“S Korea ire at Japan island move”
BBC News, April 19, 2006

4 thoughts on “Memories of Old Japan Stir Island Dispute

  1. They even do this within their own country, Okinawa has been the ugly duckling of Japan for awhile–Japan won’t even stop trying to alter their history.

  2. South Korea should mind their own business and let the Japanese continue to teach their own children that “there is a dispute”. It’s true, isn’t it?

  3. What the Koreans object to, along with most other Asian countries, is how children are taught almost nothing of Japan’s military history. The average teenager in Japan today thinks that Pearl Harbor happened after Hiroshima.