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1878 – Watanabe said Liancourt Rocks were Japanese

June 22nd, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers
The following letter was written by Watanabe Kouki (渡辺洪基), who was the Director of the Bureau of Documents in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1878. The letter summarizes the ongoing debate in the ministry over exactly what island was being referring to in the petition submitted to the ministry by Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学), who wanted to develop Matsushima. You can seen Mutoh Heigaku’s petiton HERE.

Mr. Watanabe said that if the Matsushima being referred to in the petition was Ulleungdo, then it belonged to Joseon (Korea), but if it was not Ulleungdo, then it belonged to Japan. Mr. Watanabe urged that a survey ship be sent to the area to clear up the mystery, which is what the Japanese government eventually did in 1880. The survey determined that the Matsushima being referred to in the petition was, in fact, Ulleungdo.
The following is a translation of Mr. Watanabe’s letter, which can be found as Item No. 11 in the third and last volume of the 1881 text, “A Study of Historical Evidence of Takeshima” (竹島考証):

There are several brief descriptions of Takeshima (Ulleungdo) in past records, but there are no discussions of Matsushima. However, these days people are talking a great deal about Matsushima. There are various views. Some say that it is two islands, and some say that it is one island with two names, but I have not heard that it has been decided either way.

The (mentioned) “Takeshima” is considered to be Chosun’s Ulleungdo, which the Shogunate ended up entrusting to them (Koreans) as a convenient quick fix, without considering future implications. Therefore, if the “Matsushima” being talked about here is Takeshima (Ulleungdo), then it belongs to them. If the Matsushima is not Takeshima, then it must belong to Japan. It is still inconclusive.

The location of Matsushima (Songdo) is considered important because it is situated between Joseon and Japan. It is on sea routes between Nagasaki and Vladisvostok and between Shimonseiki and Wonsan, so this is a critical location, where English and Russian warships are frequently seen. So we should be very careful. Even if it is part of Joseon, we still have to protect it. As things stand now, we have no answers to give if other countries ask us about the island. This means the island is ownerless.

Many records say that “Argonaut,” which is the Western name for Takeshima (Ulleungdo), does not exist, and that “Dagelet,” which refers to Matsushima, is actually Takeshima (Ulleungdo). So what we call “Matsushima” (Liancourt Rocks) is called “Hornet Rocks” by Westerners. Foreign maps show Hornet Rocks to be Japanese territory, but there is still no agreement among countries concerning the other two islands.

We do not have the answers either, so the area should be surveyed to determine under whose jurisdiction it belongs. Therefore, we should first contact Shimane Prefecture and investigate their relationship up to now. At the same time, we need to dispatch a ship to do a survey of the area. If Chosun has already started, we need to determine their progress and consider our options. I respectfully urge that this matter be dealt with as soon as possible.

Watanabe Kouki, Director of the Bureau of Documents

16 Responses to “1878 – Watanabe said Liancourt Rocks were Japanese”

  1. comment number 1 by: General Tiger

    Such is the problem with inaccurate maps….

  2. comment number 2 by: pacifist

    Great Tiger,

    Yes, it attributed to the inaccurate western maps but the important thing here is that Watanabe already noticed that the reason of the confusion.

    He speculated that “Matsushima” may be a small island beside Ulleungdo (that is Jukdo), or Dagelet island (that is Ulleungdo).
    And he clearly said that Hornet rocks (which are Liancourt rocks) belongs to Japan.

    So all Japan had to do was to investigate whether Argonaut and Dagelet islands were really present.

  3. comment number 3 by: pacifist

    Sorry, correction:

    Watanabe thought that the “Matsushima” may be “Dagelet”. If so, it belongs to Korea.
    And he said that the old “Matsushima” (that is Liancourt rocks) belongs to Japan.

    He was very good at understanding the situation.

  4. comment number 4 by: toadface

    First, Watanabe said. “foreign maps show Liancourt Rocks as Japanese Territory” he did not say it was Japanese territory. All Japanese maps of Japan from the 19th Century do not show Liancourt Rocks or Matsushima as Japanese territory.

    Pacifist Watanbe said “there is still no agreement about the other two islands” This means he thought there existed another island outside of Ulleungdo and Liancourt Rocks.

    Watanabe Kuoki was viewing incorrect maps showing three islands in the East Sea (Sea of Choseon). He was one of few officials who wrongfully believed there existed another “Matsushima (Ulleungdo)” in the sea. The majority of other Japanese officials disagreed with his views.

    Watanabe also said this so-called Matsushima could belong to Korea and even if so, they Japan should “protect it” (meaning assert military control over). This is clear proof of the aggressive nature of some of the Japanese officials during the expansionist era.

    After the survey by the Amagi in 1880, Japan put a hold on all development proposals in the region. When the mapping confusion was cleared up no still Japanese maps of Japan show Dokdo as either part of either Shimane Prefecture or Japan.

    It was more than a quarter of a century later when Japan annexed Dokdo. When the Japanese warship Tsushima suveyed Dokdo on November 20th 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War they determined they could build watchtowers on the island. Then Japan siezed Dokdo.

  5. comment number 5 by: pacifist


    Again, toadface, you are saying without reading the original document, aren’t you?

    此ホルネットロックスノ 我国ニ属スルハ各国ノ地図皆然リ

    Direct translation:
    This Hornet rocks belong to our country, as to that, other countries’ maps all exactly the same.

    So you can say, “The fact that this Hornet rocks belong to Japan can be seen on the other countries maps as well”.

  6. comment number 6 by: pacifist



    After Kouki clearly said that Hornet rocks (Liancourt rocks) belongs to Japan, he said “as to OTHER two islands, countries are not in accordance in recognition”.

    So the “other” two islands mean Argonaut and Dagelet islands.

    toadface, as I recommended you, you have to learn Japanese language first.

  7. comment number 7 by: pacifist


    此ホルネットロックスノ 我国ニ属スルハ各国ノ地図皆然リ

    A short japanese lesson for you.

    ホルネットロックス= Hornet rocks
    ノ = (kind of a particle to indicate the word at top)
    我国ニ= to our country
    属スル= belonging, belongs (to)
    ハ = (kind of a particle, that is)
    各国ノ= various countries’
    地図 = maps
    皆 = all
    然リ= exactly so

  8. comment number 8 by: toadface

    Pacifist, still playing fast and loose with your translations aren’t you? You are contradicting your own translation above. Pretty funny. It seems even the others don’t share your translation.

    Pacifist, the grammar in your translations is continuously doubtful. I recently contacted a professional translator and he stated this “grammar rule” you talked about was incorrect. To support this, your translation of Saito Hosen’s report on Oki is not shared by Japanese who have written articles on Dokdo. When you translate please don’t be blinded by Japanese nationalism because the public can see through your facade.

    So you see Pacifist, it isn’t really necessary to learn Japanese to have an accurate translation done. Professional translation services are quite reasonable here in Korea. These people are also free of bias and accountable for what they translate.

    Pacifist, let me give you a historical background on this document. Watanabe Kuoiki was one official who was unsure about the situation in the East Sea. His views were of the minority view and after the Amagi did a survey the issue of “Songdo” was dropped and all development proposals were refused.

    There were other Japanese in this document. Some said Songdo was Usando and attached to Ulleungdo, some others said to investigate. So, this article is misleading the viewers to believe that Japan as a nation thought Liancourt was part of Japan this is not true at all.

    We know this because maps of Japan both national and prefectures do not show Liancourt Rocks as part of Japan. No other islands beyond Oki are shows as part of Japan.

    Let me give you a lesson on Japanese maps Pacifist. Can you play find the Dokdo?


  9. comment number 9 by: pacifist


    So you see Pacifist, it isn’t really necessary to learn Japanese to have an accurate translation done. Professional translation services are quite reasonable here in Korea.

    I honestly told you the true translation.

    If some of your friends say it’s wrong, then they can’t read Japanese texts. You must ask true Japanese translaters or Japanese teachers.

    I won’t say any more, you are ignorant about the translations. But at least the readers of Occi won’t believe your distorted translations.
    Keep going insist your theory with the wrong translations, I won’t mnind, it’s only your shame. Nobody care.

  10. comment number 10 by: pacifist


    There were other Japanese in this document.

    It is another document in the book and those are anonymous opinions, while watanabe Kouki was an elite official. His proposal was accomplished in 1880 and his thought was proved to be right.

  11. comment number 11 by: ponta


    Professional translation services are quite reasonable here in Korea. These people are also free of bias and accountable for what they translate.

    Do you mean they translated it from Korean translation of Japanese?
    Did Korean nationalists gave Korean translation of Japanese text to unbiased English translator?
    Not many Korean scholars can read Japanese text correctly. I wonder how many English translators in Korea can read Japanese correctly,

    Toadface, be specific, on what ground do you say it is inaccurate? Let’s discuss it. I don’t like an unfair translation; The fair translation is good for both side, isn’t it?.

    Or are you just accusing the translation because it
    is accurate and work against Korean claim?

    BTW Do you remember how Korean schlar used to mistranlate?
    For instance,
    倭言吾等本住松島 偶因漁採出来  今当還往本所
    Korean translation(in 1954);
    Japanese said “we are going to Matsuhima , we happen to come here fishing. We are going back to the original place.
    In truth;
    Japanese said, we live on Matsuhima…
    The original text is not even Korean!!

    Why do you think they translated it that way? because people could not live on Matsuhima and the correct translation works against Korean claim—no?

  12. comment number 12 by: ponta

    The original text is not even Korean!!
    →The original text is not even Japanese!!.

  13. comment number 13 by: pacifist

    Yes, pro-Korean people have distorted the truth to make people believe that Dokdo belongs to Korea (as Syngmann Rhee insisted) and that what Japan did are all wrong.

    truth: Saitoh Hosen wrote that Ulleungdo to be Japan’s boundary.

    their distorted theory: He wrote that Oki island was the boundary.

    truth: Watanabe Kouki wrote that Liancourt rocks were Japan’s territory.

    their distorted theory: He didn’t write so.

    truth: Usan or Usando was Ulleungdo in the old times and later Jukdo.

    their distorted theory: Usan or Usando was liancourt rocks.

    ….All in all, they are deceiving people like this. toadface, shame on you.

  14. comment number 14 by: consoleman

    What a rubbish claims.
    Dokdo is belongs to Ulleundo, hence islet is part of Korea.

    Japan should return Daemado (Tsushima) to Korea as well.

  15. comment number 15 by: pacifist


    There was not an island called Dokdo in the 1878, because Korean people didn’t know about the Liancourt rocks at all.

    Usan or Usando in the old Korean documents belonged to Ulleungdo, but that was Jukdo actually.

    The Great Korean Empire, 1897-1910, also didn’t think the Liancourt rocks to be Korean territory. The 大韓地誌 (1899~revised in 1900’s) is an evidence that Korea didn’t think the rocks to be their territory.

  16. comment number 16 by: 1877 - · Occidentalism

    […] 1877 – The following document was prepared by Tanabe Taichi, who was the head of the Communications Bureau in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1877. The document summarizes the different views in the ministry on what to do about the petition by Japanese businessman Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学) to open up an island referred to as Matsushima. As you can see in the document, the Japanese were not sure which island was Mutoh’s Matsushima. Some believed it to be Joseon’s Ulleungdo; some believed it to be Ulleungdo’s Usando, and others believed it to be some uninhabited island, as was summarized in an 1878 letter written Watanabe Kouki (渡辺洪基), who was the Director of the Bureau of Docouments in the Japanese Foreign Ministry at the time.   […]