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Sea of Japan vs. East Sea
Letter Writing Campaign Influences Cartography
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"Do you think the name of the sea should be the East Sea?"
Your Guide, Matt
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by Matt Rosenberg
February 24, 2002

For well over a year, I have been continuously receiving email form letters from members of Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK), who have asked that the CIA World Factbook map of Korea here on my site be edited so that the name of the Sea of Japan to the east of Korea, be changed to the East Sea.

This organization of students "working for the promotion of Korea's image" has been engaging in a extensive email campaign to get mapmakers and even international organizations to utilize the name East Sea on their maps. VANK's current major appeal is to the International Hydrographic Organization to include East Sea as an official name for the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and the islands of Japan. According to a Korea Times newspaper article, the campaign to educate the IHO began on January 22, 2002, in anticipation of the IHO's upcoming publication Limits of Oceans and Seas. (In an September 2000 article on my site, you can read about the IHO's pending inclusion of the Southern Ocean as the world's fifth ocean.)

VANK was successful in getting the National Geographic Society to change their maps (on their Atlas Updates page, you can see their notice) in 1999 to include East Sea in parenthesis underneath the Sea of Japan.

The organization's rationale is simple - they claim that the East Sea has as much historical precedent as the Sea of Japan and should be recognized as such. In addition, when a geographic name is disputed, both names are entitled to be used internationally until a solution is determined. Thus, National Geographic and other map makers have changed their maps as a result of the onslaught. About.com's primary email box has been getting about 20 emails a day about the CIA map on my site so I also placed "(East Sea)" on the map not only to stop the attack of extensive bandwidth but also to include the disputed name. See VANK's The Historical precedent for the "East Sea" page for more information about their issues.

While my favorite geographic reference, Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary (published in 1997) contains no reference to East Sea, the online American Heritage Dictionary includes "(East Sea)" as a parenthetical notation in their entry for the Sea of Japan. It appears that VANK's campaign has been quite successful in changing the name of a geographic feature - one wonders which toponym will be the next to be changed due to an email writing campaign?

Below is a copy of one of the many letters I have received...

Dear Sir or Madam

Recently I visited your organization's website and was quite surprised to find your maps of Korea and Japan still describe Korea's East Sea as Sea of Japan which is incorrect.

Such an error in a well known website as yours comes as a surprise since we regard you as one of the world's best.

For your reference, the world's largest commercial mapmaker, National Geographic, and the travel guidebook, Lonely Planet Publication promised us that they would now use the name East Sea.

In addition, lycos.com is already using the name, 'East Sea' in their website after we pointed out the error.

Using a proper name for the body of water between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago is not simply a question of changing the name of a geographical feature.

It is rather a part of national effort by the Korean people to erase the legacy of their colonial past and to redress the unfairness that has resulted from it.

So, I urge you to use East Sea to describe the body of water in question or both Korean and Japanese designation simultaneously (e.g. 'East Sea/Sea of Japan') in all your documents and atlases.

Once Korea and Japan agree on a common designation, which is in accord with the general rule of international cartography, we can then follow the agreed-on designation.

Thank you, and we would appreciate your favorable consideration.

VANK, Voluntary Agency Network of Korea, consisted of 4500 Korean voluntary students


Do you think the name of the Sea of Japan should be changed to the East Sea? Post your thoughts on the Geography Forum.


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