Saito Hosen’s 1667 “Onshu Shicho Goki” (Report on Oki Island) – Japan’s Incorrect Translation.
“Japan’s historical case for Dokdo hinges on their erroneous translation of one Kanji character!”
One of Japan’s earliest recorded documents regarding Ulleungdo and Dokdo was written by a man named Saito Hosen. This document called “Onshu shicho goki” (Records on Observations on Oki) is alleged by the Japanese to contain the passage that Takeshima (Ulleungdo) and Matushima (Dokdo) mark the northwestern” boundary of Japan. It is a passage that Japanese fondly envoke. This book is an account of Okinoshima (Oki Island) in Onshu county.
But if one carefully reads the contents, we can see that in reality it was Oki that was deemed the boundary of Japan. Below we will study the original text and see how erroneous Japanese interpretations of the document become doubtful when put into proper historical context and referenced with historical maps of the day. But first a couple of maps below introduce the overall region.
Above left: An overall map of the region showing Korea, the East Sea (Sea of Japa) and Japan’s West Coast with the Oki Islands boxed in black. Above right: A map of the Oki Islands with legend and names of included minor islands.
The “Onshu Shicho Goki” (Report on Oki Island) was a report prepared by Saito Hosen, an official of Izumo (former name of Shimane Prefecture) who made an inspection trip to Oki Island in 1667 at the behest of his feudal lord. In this document Oki Islands and the vicinity are described in detail and maps of Oki Districts were included. Images of Saito Hosen’s 1667 Report are below.
The pictures above are images of Saito Hosen’s original 1667 Report on Oki with his maps included. The left page shows Oki’s main island of Dogo. Both maps are oriented with the South at the top. The second page shows the group of Oki’s smaller Southern islands Nishino, Nakano and Chiburi. Note Ulleungdo and Dokdo are not to be found anywhere on the maps of Oki District. (click images for larger picture)
A Translation of Saito Hosen’s ‘Report on Oki District’
The area of contention in this historical record is the translation of the character “州” in the final line of this passage. So, boxed in blue below is the text of Saito Hosen’s 1667 report. Highlighted in bold is the Kanji character “州”. English below interprets the usage of the characters “州” and “嶋” in brackets underneath except for the disputed character and the end of Saito Hosen’s passage.
Oki (州 = district) is in the center of the North Sea so it is named Okishima… (嶋 = island)
Its capital is Saigo Toyosaki, (西郷) the South bank of Suki-gun（周吉郡）
If you go 35-ri south you will get to Miho-no-seki of Unshu (州 = district).
If you go 40-ri Southeast you’ll get to Akasaki of Hakushu (州 = district).
If you go 58-ri Southwest you’ll get to Yu-no-tsu of Sekisyu (州 = district).
From north to east there is no place to go.
戌亥間行フ二日一有松嶋 又一日程有竹嶋 （俗言磯竹嶋多竹魚海鹿）
If you go to northwest you will get to Matsushima (嶋 = island) in 2 days, and you’ll get to Takeshima (嶋 = island) in one more day. (This is so-called Iso-takeshima. (嶋 = island) Rich in bamboo, fish and sealions)
These two are uninhabited islands. (嶋 = island) From there you can view Korea, just like you view Oki (州 = district) from Unshu (州 = district).
So then, the northwest of Japan, we make this “州” (州 = district or island?) to be the boundary.
Japan’s MOFA’s Inaccurate Translation of Saito Hosen’s 1667 ‘Report on Oki’
A few Japanese Takeshima advocates believe Saito Hosen declared Ulleungdo was the border of Oki District from this record from the last few line of the passage above. To them this record the last line reads “So then, the northwest of Japan, we make this island (Ulleungdo) to be the boundary (of Japan) However, their interpretation of the character “州” in the last line as “island” can be seen as incorrect for a number of reasons outlined below.
Oki District was Oki Island
The Japanese interpretation of the ‘Report on Oki District’ falls apart even by the end of the first introductory sentence. Here it was written “Oki (district) is in the center of the North Sea so it is named Oki Island…” In other words, the Okinoshima Island group itself was the district. Of course that would exclude Ulleungdo and Dokdo which are not part of the Oki Islands and Saito Hosen’s map included with the report confirms this.
Korea’s visibility from Ulleungdo – Dokdo supports Korea’s claim to the region, not Japan’s.
The last line states “so then…” meaning Saito Hosen had come to a conclusion from information given the sentence prior. Before he wrote “Korea was visible from the Ulleungdo~Dokdo region in the same manner Oki Island was visible from the Japanese mainland (Unshu) To summarize, Saito Hosen’s territorial perceptions were based on visibility.
It’s not plausible Saito Hosen would arrive at the conclusion Ulleungdo was Japanese territory from the fact Korea could be seen from there. It’s far more logical he knew the islands were much closer to Korea comperable to the Okinoshimas and Japan. From there he rightfully concluded Ulleungdo (竹島) Dokdo (松島) were Chosun territory or at least outside of Japan. The Japanese translation makes Saito Hosen’s visibility analogy nonsensical.
Above: These unmagnified photographs are of Korea’s East Coast (Taebaek Mountains) as seen from Ulleungdo Island taken by Ulleungdo resident Kim Nam Hee in 2008. They confirm Korea’s visibility from the Ulleungdo Island vicinity. (click pictures twice for larger view)
Saito Hosen consistently used “州” to mean “district” and “島” as “island”
Saito Hosen uses the character “州” to represent district or region no less that six times in this small passage. He also uses “島” to denote island at least 5 times. Surely if Takeshima (Ulleungdo) was the boundary why didn’t he just write 竹島 or at least “以此島” (These islands)? The Japanese usage of 州 in their translation is totally out of context when you consider the Kanji application in the rest of Saito Hosen’s report. In reality, the character “州” is not used often to mean “island”
17th Century Japanese maps, national and regional always excluded Ulleungdo and Dokdo.
In Saito Hosen’s report he describes all of the districts, islands and even empty spaces surrounding Oki Province by the compass. Saito Hosen does not say Takeshima and Matsushima or the other districts mentioned are part of Oki. In fact, his attached map of Oki Province shows niether Takeshima nor Matsushima. Later in 1695 Shimane replied to the Shogunate that Takeshima and Matsushima didn’t belong to both Hoki and Onshu. Thus, if both Takeshima and Matsushima weren’t part of Oki, Hoki or Inbashu what district of Japan did they fall under?
Above left: This map of Oki Islands was drawn in the 1660s, the same time as Saito Hosen wrote his report on Oki. Like Saito Hosen’s map, both Ulleungdo and Dokdo were not included. Above right: Another map of Oki District from the early 19th Century. Note the title of this map is Oki District “隠岐國” The character “國” means country or in this case also region. This map would have displayed all areas of Oki district. However, Ulleungdo and Dokdo are also not to be found.
A Japanese Illustrative Map of Matsushima (Dokdo) From the 17th Century
A 17th Century Japanese Map of Dokdo describes the islet as separate from Japan.
“Illustrative Map of Matsushima (松嶋絵図)” owned by San-in history Museum, Yonago (米子市立山陰歴史館) This map (shown to the right) is a Japanese chart of Dokdo (松島) drawn in the mid 17th Century estimated in 1656. It’s considered to be Murakawa clan’s (村川家) property.
A couple of important pieces of information on this map detail Japan’s territorial limits with relation to Dokdo Island. First on the upper right a passage describing Dokdo (Matsushima) states “the voyage from Oki country to Matsushima is almost 100 ri..” From this sentence we know Dokdo was NOT part of Oki County. On the contrary, Matsushima (Dokdo) is described as outside of Oki County.
Also on the map’s description it states, “the distance from Matsushima to Takeshima (Ulleungdo) is 30 ri. A description of Chosun’s Ulllengdo on a Japanese map of Dokdo is yet one more piece of evidence supporting the theory Ulleungdo and Dokdo were long considered as sister islands and inseparable.
Maps of the day (17th Century) fail to support Japanese Takeshima lobbyists interpretation of this report. Not only do 17th Century national maps fail to include Ulleungdo and Dokdo, directly beside the Oki Islands and always on the maps border we can see the character “北”. Regional maps of the Oki Districts consistently fail to include Ulleungdo and Dokdo though some Oki District maps indicate the islands were to the northwest. However, these charts also lack voyage routes extending in this direction.
Above left: Drawn just a few years before Saito Hosen’s 1667 ‘Report on Oki’, this national map of Japan shows Oki Islands as the northern boundary of Japan. (note the character for North “北” next to Oki Islands. Above right: This 1730 map also shows the Oki Islands group “隠岐” as the northern “北” limit of Japan. (click images)
Was the quote “見高麗如自雲州望隠州” from Saito Hosen’s Report on Oki an expression of Japanese ownership over the region?
A portion of Saito Hosen’s quote can be found on Japanese historical maps next to both Ulleungdo and Dokdo. The passage “見高麗如自雲州望隠州” (Viewing Korea from here is the same as viewing Oki District from Unshu District.
These days, some Japanese have been claiming this passage on map indicated the Japanese of the day thought both Ulleungdo and Dokdo were part of Japan. However, the earliest maps showing this feature were drawn by the famous Japanese cartographer Nagakubo Sekisui around 1779. This was 80 years after Japan’s Shogunate had formally declared Ulleungdo (竹島) Chosun territory and banned Japanese voyages to the region. Because of this fact, Saito Hosen’s passage on Japanese historical maps cannot be said to support Japanese historical ownership over Ulleungdo and Dokdo but rather reinforce the visual-territorial bond between the islands and Korea.
Above left: An overall image of Nagakubo Sekisui’s 1779 map of Japan. Above right: A closeup of Ulleungdo and Dokdo (竹島~松島) with a portion of Saito Hosen’s 1667 report “見高麗如自雲州望隠州” written next to the islands.
Saito Hosen’s 1667 ‘Report on Oki Island’ – A Conclusion based on a Detailed Analysis
Oki District (隠州) was Japan’s territorial limit, NOT Korea’s Ulleungdo Island (竹島)
The Japanese interpretation of The Report on Oki is doubtful even within the text of the document itself. This is because Saito Hosen’s consistent Kanji character usage tells us he would not have used “州” to mean “island”. When referenced with the historical maps and records of the time, Japan’s interpretation of Saito Hosen’s 1667 report cannot be substantiated. There are no charts national or regional to support Japanese assertions that Ulleungdo and Dokdo were part of Oki District during the 17th Century.
Japanese “historians” interpretation of this record is motivated by wishful thinking and political agenda rather than a well-researched study of the true historical relationship between Japan and her neighboring territories. However, fortunately these days, there are some Japanese historians such as Hideki Kajimura who accept the most plausible translation of Saito Hosen’s ‘Report on Oki’. This document stated Ulleungdo and Dokdo were outside of Japan’s territory by defining the Oki Islands as Japan’s limit. Also Ulleungdo and Dokdo were said to be within visual proximity of Chosun meaning the islands were thought to be Chosun territory.