The document was probably written in 1877 or 1878, but it was included in the last volume of a 3-volume set of books entitled “A Study of Historical Evidence of Takeshima” (竹島考証), which was an 1881 compilation of documents related to Takeshima (Ulleungdo). Here is the translation of the document:
“Arguments on the Pros and Cons of Inspecting Matsushima”
Tanabe Taichi, the Head of Communication Bureau
Opinion A (甲): Whether the island should be opened can be discussed another time, but today we should debate the merits of an inspection. I have heard that Japanese use the name “Matsushima,” but the actual name is “Usan,” which is part of Joseon’s Ulleungdo (蔚陵島). Concerning Joseon’s ownership of Ulleungdo (蔚陵島), there was a dispute during the old government (Tokugawa) when, after exchanging several documents to support our claims, we agreed to give it up, a fact that is permanently written in our two histories. To dispatch someone to inspect without any reason is like counting another’s treasure, and trespassing into a neighbor’s territory.
Although Japan and Korea have just begun exchanges, there is still some animosity and suspicion, so people who are trying to develop relations will probably be against something like this since it could cause, in one stroke, a gap to reappear. Moreover, they would probably like it even less if we hired an English or Russian ship to take us to the island. Even if the island is not Korean territory, wise people say that it was clearly a mistake to open up the uninhabited islands in the south and make them a part of Ryukyu County. What we need to strive for now it stabilizing our country, and we will gain nothing by upseting Joseon and causing disorder. We cannot and should not open up Matshushima. To inspect it while knowing how useless it would be, would be extremely unbeneficial. Moreover, it would cause harm later.
Opinion B (乙): We cannot decide to open up the land until we have inspected it. When discussing territory, we must physically see it. It is wrong to believe something based on just a piece of paper. Moreover, the island is located near our shore. It is an important route for our people when they sail to the Korean mainland or to Russian locals, so it would be negligent of us to make a decision without without investigating all the details of the land and its situation. Therefore, we should inspect not only the island in question (Matsushima), but also Takeshima (Ulleungdo). We need to know all the details of its current situation. An inspection is needed, but, needless to say, it would be stupid to hire an English or Russian ship, anchor there for only a day or half a day, and allow only one or two officials to land and inspect it. Also, it is not necessary that we do it right away. When the Navy is free, after the Seinan war (a local war inside Japan), we should dispatch naval officers who are experts on surveying and drafting and government officials who are experts on production an product development and let them inspect the island. After that, we can compare writings, maps, and documents to finally determine if Matsushima is a part of Ulleungdo (蔚陵島), if it is Usan, or if it is an ownerless island. Then we can consider the benefits of cultivating it. Therefore, since it is impossible to decide whether to open up the island before we inspect it, we have no choice but to inspect Matsushima. At any rate, it would be regrettable if we accept arguments like Mr. Sewaki’s, who says we should not dare do this.
Opinion C (丙): There was a theory in a Bristish newspaper that said the UK needed a naval base in the northern Pacific to stop Russia’s eastward expansion, so they may take notice of an island like Matsushima. Also, I have heard that a British government ship named Sylvia made a voyage from Nagasaki to Korea. We do not know the route they took, as there was no Japanese interpreter onboard, so there is a chance they passed the island. If a UK minister or someone else asks about the island in question, it would not only be embarrassing to say we have no idea, it could cause trouble. Therefore, let’s not debate opinions A and B, on whether we should open the island, since our most urgent task is to determine the status of the island in question.
If there is someone willing to inspect the island or anchor near the island, regardless of the ship he uses, we should permit him and hire him to do so. Even if we achieve only what has been mentioned so far, it will naturally cost something. After determining how much it is worth to get the task done soon, we should give Mr. Sewaki a predetermined amount of money and have him do the task within that budget. Although we cannot rule out the possibility that the Korean government will become more suspicious if a Japanese arrives on a foreign ship, since the Korean people on the island cannot differentiate Japanese and other foreigners, I do not believe it will hurt the friendship with our neighbors.
As you can see from the above document, the Japanese were unsure of where Matsushima was, but one opinion was that it was Ulleungdo’s Usando. Some Korean historians claim that the Japanese believed Usando to be Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo), but all Japanese maps showing “Usando” (于山島) showed it as a neighboring island of Ulleungdo, not Liancourt Rocks. In fact, some Japanese maps even showed it to the west of Ulleungdo, which means it could not have been Liancourt Rocks. Liancourt Rocks are ninety-two kilometers southeast of Ulleungdo.
The following are Japanese maps showing Usando (亐山島 or 于山島):
1873 – 朝鮮国細見全図 – 染崎延房編著
1873 – 朝鮮全図 – 海軍水路寮
1877 Aug – 原版朝鮮全国之写 – 陸軍編纂
1894 – 明治二十七年 朝鮮全図 – 柴田源三郎編