The Dokdo Issue

Korea’s perspective on Dokdo

In April, 2014, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology approved a policy to insert false historical information in elementary school textbooks. The textbooks stated that Dokdo is Japan’s indigenous territory and that Korea is illegally occupying Dokdo. This is on par with other actions of Japan’s rightist movement, such as revisiting of the Yasukuni Shrine by the extreme-rightist Shinzo Abe’s administration, glorifying the Sino-Japanese and the Russo-Japanese Wars, and omitting information about “comfort women” from the textbooks. In comparison to Germany’s recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as an act of reflecting its past, Japan’s claim on Dokdo demonstrates the country’s attempts to alter the course of history.

In 1905, Japan forcibly seized Dokdo, then part of Joseon (the last dynasty of Korean history; 1392-1910), under claims that it was an ownerless land in order to strengthen its position against Russia in the Russo-Japanese Wars. After the end of World War II, Japan, as one of the defeated countries, was forced to return all territory seized under imperialism to the rightful owners. Nevertheless, Japan still insists that Dokdo is Japan’s territory – they even changed their original argument from claiming that no country possessed Dokdo before they occupation in 1905 to new assertions in 1953 that Japanese diplomatic documents marked Dokdo as Japan’s indigenous territory.

However, many historical documents prove that Dokdo was always historically Korea’s territory. Geography books, such as Sejong Sillok (1454) and Dong’guk Munheon Bigo (1710) that were published during the Joseon dynasty, designated Dokdo as part of Ulleungdo, another island of Joseon, justifying that Joseon had sovereignty over Dokdo. In addition, the Korean Empire proclaimed Dokdo a part of Ulleungdo-gun (gun: county in Korean) in Imperial Edict No.41 (1900).

Even Japan’s public documents such as ‘The Tottori-han’s Submission’ (1693) and ‘The Dajokan Order’ (1877) emphasize that Dokdo is not part of Japan. These documents directly contradict Japan’s current claim that Dokdo was an unclaimed territory. Moreover, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Index Number (SCAPIN) 677 in 1946, a memorandum that sealed the range of territories that would be changed after the end of the Second World War, excluded Dokdo from its administrative and governmental district. These documents add to the evidence that Dokdo is not under the dominance of Japan and that such fact has been globally acknowledged, even by Japan.

Official documents from Korea and Japan along with international statements from events such as the Potsdam and Cairo conferences refute the Japanese government’s unjust claim on Dokdo.

Despite the evidence, the Japanese government still denies Korea’s claim to Dokdo. Japan’s current assertions on Dokdo can be explained as threat to Korea’s sovereignty and a repetition of the imperialism that triggered World War II in the past.


Hosaka, Y. (2010, September 15). Daehanminguk Dokdo [Dokdo of Korea]. Seoul, Korea: Sejong University Dokdo Research Institute, & Chaek-Mun.

Jeon, S. (2013, August 24). Ilbon-eun Wae Dok-il-gwa Jungbandae-eh Gil-lo Gal-gga [Why is Japan taking the opposite direction from Germany]. DongA News. Retrieved from

Kim, Y. (2014, April 14). Dokdo-neun Neo-ko Ouianbu-neun Bbae-go… Deo Gyo-myo-hae-jin Gwageosa Dobal [Including ‘Dokdo’ and excluding ‘Comfort Women’.. Sneakier Provocation of History]. Segye News. Retrieved from

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Dokdo, Beautiful Island of Korea. In Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Retrieved from

Northeast Asian History Foundation. (2012, September 6). Ten Truths About Dokdo Not Known in Japan. In Dokdo Research Institute. Retrieved from

Korea says:

Japan’s current argument over Dokdo’s ownership is based on the opinion that Dokdo was already Japan’s territory when it was forcibly incorporated into Japan’s Shimane prefecture in 1905. However, many historical documents and maps from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) confirm that Dokdo was part of Korea many years before the 20th century.

Sejong Silok, Jiriji (1454)

Sejong Silok, Jiriji, Geography Section of the Annals of King Sejong’s Reign, is a government compilation that contains Joseon’s territorial records. This geographical record explains that Ulleungdo (Mureung) and Dokdo (Usan) are part of Uljin-hyeon (Uljin prefecture) of Gangwondo (Gangwon province). It also records that Dokdo can be seen with the naked eye from Ulleungdo, indicating that geographically, Dokdo is part of Ulleungdo.

“The two islands of Usan [Dokdo] and Mureung [Ulleungdo] are located in the middle of the sea due directly east of the hyeon [Uljin prefecture]. “Usan [Dokdo], Mureung [Ulleungdo]… The two islands are not far apart from each other and thus visible on a clear day.”

Dongguk Munheon Bigo (1770), Yeojigo (1770)

Similar to Sejong Silok Jiriji, Yeojigo in Dongguk Munheon Bigo is an additional geography book that contain geographical information about Joseon. This book emphasizes Korea’s governance over Dokdo since the Silla Dynasty in the early 6th century and states that Dokdo and Ulleungdo are both part of the Usan-guk (Usan State), which was conquered by Silla in AD 512.

“Usando [Dokdo], Ullengdo… Together, these two islands comprise Usan… According to Yeojiji [Geography of Korea], it is said that Ulleung and Usan are both territories of Usan-guk and that Usan is what the Japanese refer to as Matsushima [old Japanese name for Dokdo].”

Imperial Edict No.41 (1900)

After Japan’s Meiji Restoration, Japanese people began to gradually increase their visits to Ulleungdo and Dokdo. The government of Korean Empire, alarmed by this, elevated the post of Ulleungdo to a county and placed Dokdo under the jurisdiction of Uldo-gun (Ulleungdo county). Imperial Edict No.41 is an important historical record that proves that the Korean Empire recognized Dokdo as part of Ulleungdo and exerted sovereign authority over Dokdo.

(Imperial Edict No.41) Renaming of Ulleungdo to Uldo and the changing of the post of Inspector [dogma] to county magistrate [gunsu] Article 1. Ulleungdo shall be renamed Uldo and shall fall under the jurisdiction of Gangwon-do [Gangwon province]. The post of inspector [dogam] shall be charged to county magistrate [gunsu] and incorporated into officialdom, and the county shall be a class-5 county. Aricle 2. The location of the county office shall be Taeha-dong, and as regards the districts, all of Ulleungdo as well as Jukdo and Seokdo [Dokdo] shall be placed under the jurisdiction of [Uldo-gun (Uldo county)].


Hanguksa Sajeon Pyeon-chan-hwae (2007, March 30). Encyclopedia of the Korean Ancient-Middle Age History. Seoul, Korea: Garam Gi-hwaek

Hosaka, Y. (2010, September 15). Daehanminguk Dokdo [Dokdo of Korea]. Seoul, Korea: Sejong University Dokdo Research Institute, & Chaek-Mun. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Dokdo, Beautiful Island of Korea. In Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Retrieved from

Northeast Asian History Foundation. (2012, September 6). Ten Truths About Dokdo Not Known in Japan. In Dokdo Research Institute. Retrieved from

Even Japan said it.

Japan has been in constant confrontation with Korea through their assertions that Dokdo has been part of Japan since its incorporation to Japanese territory in 1905. This assertion is based on the notion that Dokdo had been terra nullius before 1905. Furthermore, some of those documents actually specify that Japan did not acknowledge Dokdo as part of their own territory. Related references from Japan are as follows:

The “Tottori-han’s Response” (1693)

In 1693, Joseon’s (1392-1910) fishermen, including Yong-bok An and the Ohya and Murakawa families of Tottori-han of Japan argued over fishing rights near the coast of Dokdo and Ulleungdo. The two Japanese families petitioned the Japanese government to stop the Koreans from taking a passage to Ulleungdo. Eventually, the Japanese and the Korean government began diplomatic negotiations over the dominium of Dokdo and Ulleungdo; this incident is referred to as the “Ulleungdo Dispute.” As a result, the Edo Shogunate (Japan between 1603 and 1868) acknowledged that Ullengdo and Dokdo were not part of Tottori-han in what became known as the “Tottori-han’s Response.” In January 28th, 1696, the shogunate prohibited all Japanese civilians from passing through Ulleungdo.

Japanese shogunate’s inquiry to Tottori-han to determine whether Ulleungdo was a part of Tottori-han and whether there were other islands under Tottori-han’s jurisdiction

  1. Since when has Takeshima [Ulleungdo], which belongs to Inshu and Hakushu [Inaba and Hoki; today’s Tottori prefecture] been under the jurisdiction of the two states [Inaba and Hoki]?
  1. Apart from Takeshima [Ulleungdo], are there any other islands that belong to the two states [Inaba and Hoki]?

Response from Tottori-bun

  1. Takeshima [Ulleungdo] is not an island that belongs to Inaba and Hoki (today’s Tottori prefecture]…
  1. As for Takeshima [Ulleungdo] and Matsushima [Dokdo], neither belongs to the two states [Inaba and Hoki] nor are there any other islands belonging to these two states.

The Daijokan Order (1877)

During the 1870s of the Meiji era, Japanese fishermen asked the Japanese government to utilize resources near Ulleungdo, but the Japanese government took account of the Ulleungdo Dispute and turned down their requests. In 1877, the Japanese Ministry of Home Affairs asked the Daijokan (Grand Council of State), Japan’s highest government agency, if Ulleungdo and Dokdo could be included into Japanese geography books. The Daijokan responded, in what is now called “The Daijokan Order,” that Ulleungdo and Dokdo were not part of the Japanese territories since the “Ulleungdo Dispute.” This order was significant in that the sovereignty over Dokdo that was recognized during the “Ulleungdo Dispute” was confirmed once again by the Japanese government.

March 20, 10th year of Meiji

Regarding the inquiry from the Ministry of Home Affairs about Takeshima [Ulleungdo] and another island [Dokdo] in East Sea pertaining to the land registry project

Considering the understanding that our country [Japan] has nothing to do with the two islands as per the conclusion of the negotiations between the old government [Edo shogunate[ and the country concerned [Korea] in the 5th year of Genroku [1692] following the entry of Joseon [Korean] people into the islands, we propose to issue the following:


Regarding Takeshima [Ulleungdo] and another island [Dokdo] about which an inquiry was submitted, bear in mind that our country [Japan] has nothing to do with them.

-Daijokan Order of 1877-


Hosaka, Y. (2010, September 15). Daehanminguk Dokdo [Dokdo of Korea]. Seoul, Korea: Sejong University Dokdo Research Institute, & Chaek-Mun.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Dokdo, Beautiful Island of Korea. In Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Retrieved from

Northeast Asian History Foundation. (2012, September 6). Ten Truths About Dokdo Not Known in Japan. In Dokdo Research Institute. Retrieved from

Yong-bok, An. (2014, January 27). In Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. Retrieved from

The world says:

After World War II, the Allies officially announced the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration to discuss the repercussions of Japan’s imperialism that had taken countless lives. With the Cairo Declaration, the Allies demanded the unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire. It also proclaimed the independence of Korea, a country that had been colonized by Japan and demanded the return of all territories that Japan had forcibly occupied to their rightful owners. Two years later, in 1945, Japan unconditionally surrendered to the Allies and accepted the Potsdam Declaration, a proclamation that reconfirmed Japan’s acceptance of the original Cairo Declaration. Following these declarations, Japan was forced to restitute Dokdo, an island seized from the Korean Empire in 1905, to Korea. Additionally, the Allies legally settled all damages committed by Imperial Japan, e.g. excluding Dokdo from the Japanese territory, in SCAPIN, a memorandum that was written after the Second World War.

The Cairo Declaration (1943) & the Potsdam Declaration (1945)

The Cairo Declaration was a decree presented in November 27th of 1943 by the Allies (composed of Great Britain, the United States, and China, etc,) to end the Japanese imperialism. It included the announcement of Korea’s independence and the territorial policy of Japan henceforth. It also required Japan to return all the territories it seized under imperialism since the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. Thus, in accordance with the Cairo Declaration, Dokdo should be returned to Korea. The declaration is written as follows:

-The aforesaid Three Great Powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.

-Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed.

Japan, which surrendered to the Allies in 1945, was legally bound to embrace the Potsdam Declaration. Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration also reconfirms Japan’s acceptance of the original Cairo Declaration.

Potsdam Declaration Article 8: “the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out.”

SCAPIN (1946)

SCAPIN was drafted in 1946 for postwar compensation. This memorandum supports the fact that the Allies considered Dokdo an island claimed during the time of Japanese imperialism and not originally Japan’s territory. SCAPIN-677 and SCAPIN-1033 explain the administrative control and fishing rights regarding Dokdo.

SCAPIN-677 Article 3: For the purpose of this directive, Japan is defined to include … excluding (a) Utsuryo (Ullung) Island, Liancourt Rocks [(Dokdo)]…and Quelpart (Saishu or Cheju) Island …

SCAPIN-1033 Article 3: Japanese vessels or personnel thereof will not approach closer than twelve (12) miles to Takeshima (Dokdo) (37°15’ North Latitude, 131°53’ East Longitude) nor have any contact with said island.


Hosaka, Y. (2010, September 15). Daehanminguk Dokdo [Dokdo of Korea]. Seoul, Korea: Sejong University Dokdo Research Institute, & Chaek-Mun.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Dokdo, Beautiful Island of Korea. In Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Retrieved from

Northeast Asian History Foundation. (2012, September 6). Ten Truths About Dokdo Not Known in Japan. In Dokdo Research Institute. Retrieved from

A Letter to World Friends

A Letter to World Friends – Why Dokdo is a Korean Territory

Dokdo is an integral part of Korean territory historically, geographically, and under international law. Here are the reasons.

Dokdo can be easily seen from the top of Chorokbong Peak in Donghae, Gangwondo Province, Korea, whereas it is too far to be seen from the Oki Islands, Japan’s closest territory to Dokdo. Neither Dokdo nor Ulleungdo is visible from Shimane Prefecture in Japan.

The flow of ocean water in the East Sea makes these two islands belong to Korea. The ocean current that flows through the Straits of Korea into the East Sea runs north. The current that runs from south to north flows through Ulleungdo, turns right, and moves south toward Dokdo. After passing Dokdo, it runs from the ocean far off Pohang, moves toward the west coast of Japan, and then north again. This current makes it easy to go from Ulleungdo to Dokdo, but difficult to go from the Oki Islands to Dokdo. This is a geographical reason why Dokdo belongs to Korea, not Japan.

In the 17th century, the governments of Joseon and Japan had a dispute over Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Yongbok An, a fisherman from Dongnae (today’s Busan) went to Japan and sued Japanese fishermen for invading the islands. The conflict between the fishermen of Dongnae in Korea and Tottori Prefecture in Japan developed into a territorial dispute between the two countries. The two governments began negotiations through diplomatic correspondence.

The Joseon government notified Japan of its sovereignty over Ulleungdo. The Japanese government held an investigation, and concluded that the two islands did not belong to Japan. Consequently, Japan issued an order to prohibit its fishermen from going to Ulleungdo, and informed Joseon of this decision. It settled the territorial dispute over Ulleungdo and Dokdo. This was in 1699. For the next 170 years, the two countries maintained a peaceful relationship.

Japan recognizes that there was a territorial dispute and a settlement between the two countries in the 17th century. It argues that the ban was limited to the passage to Ulleungdo, not to Dokdo. However, the dispute and the settlement included both islands. There is no record that Japan ever permitted Japanese fishing boats to go to Dokdo. Both countries have existing documents that describe the process and results of this territorial dispute. This is a historical reason why Dokdo belongs to Korea, not Japan.

One of the international legal grounds that supports Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo is the Dajokan Directive, dated March 29, 1877. The Dajokan or the Grand Council of State was the highest Japanese administrative body of the period. Japan signed the Treaty of Saint Petersburg with Russia in 1875 to obtain control over the Kuril Islands or the four northern islands, in exchange for control over Sakhalin. Two years later, on March 29, 1877, the Dajokan issued a directive to clarify that Japan had nothing to do with Ulleungdo and another island (Dokdo). This directive was to define the border between Japan and Joseon after the treaty with Russia. In 1879, Japan annexed the Kingdom of Ryukyu to Okinawa Prefecture. This series of actions indicates that Japan intended to maintain peaceful relationships with Russia and Joseon. Documents that Japanese officials reviewed before the issue of the directive still exist. They detail the process and result of the territorial dispute and the settlement on Ulleungdo and Dokdo between Korea and Japan. One of the documents is the lord of Tottori Prefecture’s report that stated the two islands did not belong to the prefecture.

Japan named Dokdo “Takeshima” and unilaterally incorporated it into Shimane Prefecture, which is the legal ground for its sovereignty claim over Dokdo. The Japanese called Ulleungdo “Takeshima” and Dokdo “Matsushima” from the 14th century. Shimane didn’t distinguish between Ulleungdo and Dokdo because its residents had not been to these islands.

Upon examining historical events around 1905, it becomes clear that Japan’s claims are based on its imperialist invasions. After signing the treaty with Russia in 1875 to define their border, Japan signed the Treaty of Ganghwa with Joseon in 1876. The Treaty of Ganghwa included mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. The First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 made the world aware of Japan’s imperialist invasion. After its victory, Japan took over Taiwan from China. About ten years later, in 1904, Japan broke the treaty with Russia and went to war. In 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War, Japan sought to annex Dokdo to build watchtowers on Dokdo and observe the Russian fleets.

After its victory in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan seized Sakhalin Island from Russia by signing the Treaty of Portsmouth on September 5, 1905. Japan proclaimed its unconditional surrender to the Allies, and WWII finally ended in 1945. To normalize its international relations, Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty on September 8, 1951. Japan has a territorial dispute with Russia. It claims only four islands in the Kuril chain off Hokkaido, not the territories that it took over from Russia after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War. This is because under international law, it is difficult to defend the legitimacy of a treaty that resulted from an imperialist war.

After its founding in 1392, Joseon lasted for 500 years. In the late 19th century, Joseon changed its name to the Korean Empire and strove to respond to the rapidly changing international environment. Emperor Gwangmu, the first emperor of the Korean Empire, put great effort into protecting its territories. He proclaimed that Dokdo belongs to Korea by issuing Imperial Decree No. 41 on October 25, 1900. This happened five years prior to Japan’s annexation attempt. This is a legal reason why Dokdo belongs to Korea, not Japan, under international law.

On December 12, 1948, the UN General Assembly at its third session recognized the Republic of Korea as a legitimate government. Dokdo was under the sovereignty of Korea. If Japan had rights to Dokdo, it would have raised an objection to the UN at the time. Before the UN recognized the Republic of Korea, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Index Number (SCAPIN) 677 had already prohibited Japan from exerting any power over Dokdo. This is another legal reason why Dokdo belongs to Korea, not Japan, under international law.

The Japanese government uses the San Francisco Peace Treaty as a ground for its claim over Dokdo. Looking back on the history of the past century, it lacks plausibility. Japan’s invasion of neighboring countries began with its annexation of Ryukyu in 1879. From then on, Japan waged war after war, including the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the Japanese Invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and the Pacific War in 1941. Japan’s invasions finally ended with its emperor’s declaration of surrender on August 15, 1945. Most of territories that Japan forcibly took were returned to their respective countries.

Dokdo is no exception. With Japan’s unconditional surrender, Dokdo was returned to Korea. Ever since, Korea has been exercising its lawful sovereignty over Dokdo. Article 2 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty states that “Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title, and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart (Jejudo), Port Hamilton (Geomundo) and Dagelet (Ulleungdo).”

There are many documents that prove Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo, including the 1877 Dajokan Directive, the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, the Japanese Emperor’s proclamation of unconditional surrender, SCAPIN 677, and the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Japan’s claim over Dokdo is a denial of its unconditional surrender in WWII, the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and even the full independence of Korea.

As neighboring countries, Korea and Japan should build a peaceful relationship and cooperate for world peace. To make this happen, Japan must stop making claims over Dokdo. Historically, geographically, and under international law, Dokdo is a Korean territory.