A Visual Study of Dokdo and Territorial Perceptions

Throughout the ages, nations have used visibility as a method of determining which territories were part of their country. Both Ulleungdo and Dokdo have historical records from Korean and Japanese sources that when combined with common sense help us understand the territorial perceptions of this now contested region.

Though both sides have argued with Japanese~Korean historical maps and documents, a basic study of Dokdo region’s geography has been given little consideration. What did the Japanese and Koreans see hundreds of years ago when they sailed these waters? When we look through the eyes of those who frequented the East Sea we can begin to understand what areas they considered to be their land.

This page has been created to give the reader an in-depth introduction to the Dokdo~Ulleungdo region through actual images from different locations around Korea. These images will be referenced with Korean and Japanese historical documents and maps.

A Summary of Dokdo Region’s Geography
dokdo region map 竹島 たけしま 獨島 독도 dokdo takeshima liancourtThe image to the right of this text is an overview of the East coast of Korea and Japan’s western shore. Right away it is apparent how much closer Korea’s easternmost island Ulleugdo is to Dokdo than Japan’s Oki Island. Ulleungdo is about 87kms from Dokdo, and Oki Island almost double the distance at around 156kms. When conditions are ideal, Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo’s peaks, on the other hand, Dokdo is never visible from Japan’s Okinoshimas.

Historically Dokdo was about one day’s sailing from Ulleungdo Island in the direction of both prevailing winds and currents. However, to reach Dokdo Japanese had to battle these elements to reach the island and it was recorded to take about two days and one night for Japanese to sail to Dokdo en route to Ulleungdo. (See Saito Hosen’s report below) However, the only official Japanese voyages originated from Yonago of Tottori (today’s Shimane Prefecture) and would have taken around three days also en route to plunder Korea’s Ulleungdo Island.

The image above is a highly detailed map of Korea’s East coast (click twice for high detail.) If we observe the geography of the East coast of Korea we can see high mountain peaks from the Taebeak Mountain range. Mount Yukbaek, Mount Unbong both tower over 1200 meters. Slightly further West (not on the map) is Taebaek Mountain that stands about 1560 meters high. Most notably, Ulleungdo island’s Seonginbong (mountain) is marked on this map at around 984 meters. All of these mountains allowed both Ulleungdo and the Korean peninsula to be visible from very long distances, especially from sea level.

Below is a Korean chart from the 18th Century. This map shows both Ulleungdo and Usando (Dokdo). Usando was drawn on the West side rather than its correct eastern location. Note the red line extending from Ulleungdo Island to Uljin. This line is marked “Two days sea route” and shows Koreans were frequenting Ulleungdo. In fact, Korean records of voyaging to Ulleungdo date back to the year 512 A.D. Thus, it can be confirmed Koreans were living within visual proximity of Dokdo a millennium before the first Japanese records of the region by the Murakawa family of Shimane dated around 1618.

An ancient map of Ulleungdo, Usando and Korea's East Coast
Historical Records of Ulleungdo’s Visibility from Korea
Ulleungdo visible from Korea dokdo takeshima liancourtIn the year 1882 William Elliot Griffiths published a book called “Corea, The Hermit Kingdom” on pages 110~111 can be found a small description about Ulleundo’s visibility from Kangwan Province on Korea’s East coast it reads as follows

“…Nabashi’s camp was in Kangwan, three days journey distant. From a point on the sea coast near by, in fair weather, the island cone of Dagelet (Ulleungdo) is visible. To the question of Kato, some Korean prisoners falsely answered that it was Fujiyama – the worshipped island of the homeland and “the thing of beauty and joy forever” to the Japanese people. Immediately the Japanese reverently uncovered their heads and, kneeling to the strand, gazed long and lovingly with homesick hearts – a scene often portrayed in Japanese decorative work…”

Images of Ulleungdo from Korea’s East Coast (Samcheok City)

Pictures of Korea’s East Coast Taken from Ulleungdo Island
Korea from Ulleungdo 독도 獨島 竹島 たけしまBoth Chosun and Japanese ancient historical documents that recorded Korea was visible from the Ulleungdo and Dokdo vicinity have recently been confirmed by pictures taken from Ulleungdo. For example the image on the right is a photograph of Korea’s East coast taken from Ulleungdo’s West side in the evening. The outline of Korea’s Taebaek mountain range is clearly visible against the setting sun in this photo. The image can be clicked twice for a large image.

This photo, and some others on this page were taken by a Korean photographer named Kim Cheol Hwan. He has devoted a great deal of time and effort in capturing images of the Dokdo region to verify what was is recorded in ancient Korean and Japanese documents.

The two photographs were taken in the evening from Ulleungdo’s West side on the hills of Taeha Village by Ulleungdo resident Kim Nam Hee in the fall of 2008. Korea’s mountains are easily visible against the backdrop of the setting sun. In 1696, a Korean inspector named Jang Han Sang also mentioned seeing Korea’s mountains from Chosun’s Ulleungdo Island. Jang Han Sang’s 1694 Inspection of Ulleungdo – Korea’s Ulleungdo Sa-Jeok (蔚陵島事蹟)

The two photos above of Korea’s coast from Ulleungdo’s Taeha region were taken by Ulleungdo resident Mr. Kim Nam Hee who runs a tourist agency at Dodong Harbour. It was taken using a Canon camera and standard lens with little or no magnification. (click pics twice)
Japanese Records of Visibility and Territorial Perceptions
In 1667, Saito Hosen (a retainer of the Daimyo of Izumo) wrote the “Onshu Shicho Goki” (Records on Observations on Oki). These were the first Japanese documents to accurately mention Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Saito Hosen’s report can be seen here. Saito Hosen’s 1667 “Onshu Shicho Goki” (Report on Oki Island)
In this report, it was stated “..Going further from there (Oki Island) for two days and one night in the direction of Northwest one reaches Matsushima (Dokdo). Also there is Takeshima (Ulleungdo) at another day’s travel distance. These two islands are uninhabited and getting a sight of Koryo (from there) is like viewing Oki island from Onshu. Thus, this land (Oki Province) marks the northwestern boundary of Japan….”
The above photographs confirm Korea’s visibility from the Ulleungdo~Dokdo region. Saito Hosen defined Japan’s western limit as Oki islands by using visibility as the criterion for territorial ownership of lands. Simply put, he thought Ulleungdo and Dokdo were Korean land because he could see Korea from there in the same was Oki Island was visible from Japan. Saito Hosen’s quote would be carefully drawn on Japanese maps for around two hundred years after his report on Oki. This quote was still written on charts long after the Shogunate declared Ulleungdo Korean land following the 1696 Anyongbok incident.
The map above shows Korea’s East Coast, Ulleungdo Island, Dokdo Island, Japan’s Okinoshima’s and Japan’s West Coast. In 1667, Japan’s Saito Hosen’s “Report of Oki” made it clear Japan’s Westernmost limit was Oki Province (Islands).
The three closeup images of Ulleungdo (Takeshima) and Dokdo (Matsushima) were taken from Japanese historical maps from different eras. We can see Kanji characters that read “見高如麗雲州望隱州”. This means “Viewing Korea (from here) is the same as viewing Oki Island from Onshu..” Notice how the text spans both Ulleungdo and Dokdo islands as one. The map to the left was taken from a Japanese map of Korea and Japan dated 1849.

Thus, almost two hundred years after Saito Hosen defined Japan’s Westernmost limit as Oki Island, Japanese mapmakers continued to remind thier countrymen of the strong visual – territorial bond between Ulleungdo/Dokdo and the Korean peninsula.

A handful of Japanese (politically motivated) “historians” still maintain the narrow-minded view Saito Hosen’s quote is evidence of Japan’s sovereignty over Dokdo (marked as 松島-Matsushima). These assertions can be easily dismissed as Saito Hosens’s quote continued to be written adjacent to Ulleungdo Island and Dokdo over a century after Japan’s Shogunate declared the islands outside of Japan (in 1696) and part of Chosun (in 1836).

Dokdo Island’s Visibility from Korea’s Ulleungdo and Territorial Ownership
Dokdo’s visibility from Ulleungdo’s mountain peaks is recorded in numerous historical documents and this fact strongly supports Korea’s claim to the island. It can be confirmed Koreans who resided on Ulleungdo could voyage to Dokdo without losing visual contact of Ulleungdo.

However, what has been overlooked in this territorial dispute is Ulleungdo’s visibility from Dokdo island.The images below are pictures of Ulleungdo Island from Dokdo Island. We can see Ulleungdo is highly visible from Dokdo. As mentioned above, Seonginbong Mountain on Ulleungdo towers almost a kilometer above sea level.

The pictures of Ulleungdo above were taken by ROK Security Police on Dokdo Island and were donated to dokdo-takeshima.com. The left photo clearly shows the profile of Korea’s Ulleungdo against the setting sun to the West. The right photo is taken at a very wide angle landscape setting and thus has no magnification. The lights of Kim Seong Do’s house on Dokdo’s West Islet can be seen in the lower right corner.

Below are some other random photos of Ulleungdo from Dokdo Island. They were taken by various tourists and some were from the Dokdo museum and the Northeast Asian History Foundation’s Dokdo Research Center.(click images twice)

The picture shown to the right is again Korea’s Ulleungdo Island as seen from Dokdo. Dokdo Island’s West Islet is in the foreground and behind is the southern tip of Ulleungdo. The outline of the rocks can be identified as Ulleungdo’s Seal Point.

This photo must have been taken from the top of the East Islet. It also must have used a fair degree of magnification and was taken in the evening judging by the setting sun in the West. The most probable location of the photographer must have been from the East Islet’s lighthouse, watchtower or helicopter pad. Perhaps it was also taken by Korea’s Dokdo Guard Police.

In the year 1696 Japan “ceded” Ulleungdo Island to Korea after a dispute involving Japanese fishermen on the island. From 1696 on, the Shogunate forbade Japanese nationals from voyaging to Ulleungdo. Despite this fact Japanese fishermen continued to illegally voyage to Ulleungdo and visited Dokdo during these clandestine fishing trips.

Knowing Japan’s Shogunate strictly prohibited travel to Korea’s Ulleungdo, it makes no sense whatsoever that Japanese would consider two rocks within visual proximity of an island they were forbidden to travel to, as Japanese territory. It’s not plausible Japanese fishermen from Yonago would travel three days to these rocks that could provide no shelter in a tempest nor guarantee potable water upon their arrival. In fact, there are no records of Japanese travelling to Dokdo as a sole destination.
A Video of Dokdo Island as Seen From Korea’s Ulleungdo Island
As the title suggests, the video below shows a view of Dokdo Island from the East side of Ulleungdo Island. It appears to have been taken from the inland mountain ranges between Dodong and Jeodong Harbors. For hundreds of years Dokdo Island visibility was known to Koreans who fished the waters around Ulleungdo and also those who inspected the region.

Because Youtube’s resolution is poor, this video is best viewed at least 720p HD. Simply click on the bottom right 480p default and adjust the setting. Hopefully, in the future we can stream the video directly through our website. The video can also be viewed directly at youtube here ( link )

Images of Dokdo Island from Korea’s Ulleungdo Island
The pictures in the next section below are famous to those familiar with the Dokdo / Takeshima dispute. They are of course photos of Dokdo from Ulleungdo Island. Dokdo’s visibility from Ulleungdo was also recorded in the 1696 Ulleungdo Sajeok, Chosun’s 1714 Report on Coastal Defences and the Japanese 1901~03 Black Dragon Fishing Manuals.

Since at least the 1960’s an issue of debate was Dokdo’s visibility from the shores of Korea’s Ulleungdo Island. Korean scholars have for decades asserted on clear days and with correct wind direction Dokdo Island can be seen from the East shores of Ulleungdo at higher elevations. More recently, during the last few years, both Korean historians, regular citizens and research groups have laid this issue to rest with numerous images and Japanese and Korean historical records. To this day, Dokdo Islands visibility from Ulleungdo is an undisputed fact.

The image shown to the left, is one of the first images of Dokdo from Ulleungdo to be made publicly available via the internet. Many Japanese on the internet doubted the authenticity of this photo and scrutinized every aspect of it. Some wrongfully stated the picture was photoshopped and claimed the shadows on the person in the foreground were inconsistent with Dokdo’s location relative to Ulleungdo.

Fake or not, with other images and historical records having surfaced over the years, the skeptical Japanese lobbyists who doubted Dokdo’s visibility, have been silenced.

First Above: A picture of Dokdo from Ulleungdo taken by professional photographer Kim Cheol Hwan appears to have used some magnification. Above right is another photo of Dokdo from Ulleungdo showing little, if any telephoto lens usage. (click pictures)
As the debate continued, a Korean pro-photographer name Kim Cheol Hwan (Ulleungdo to Korea pictures above) submitted a very clear photo of Dokdo from Korea displayed above. This picture, it seems used a telephoto lens and did little to help the historical debate as this technology did not exist years ago of course.

Dokdo-takeshima.com suggested to bolster Korea’s argument, the pictures should be unmagnified and taken with a lens with a focal length of around 50mm or less. Korean netizens and governmental groups came through. Later on, authentic, unmagnified pictures of Dokdo from Ulleungdo became more commonplace on the internet.

In the fall of 2008, dokdo-takeshima.com, asked local Ulleungdo residents Mr Kim Nam Hee and Mr Jin Seong if they could produce an unmagnified picture of Dokdo from Ulleungdo’s eastern peaks. It was also stipulated there should be foreground image for scale and distance. It was only a matter of a few weeks before they presented the pictures from Ulleungdo’s peaks near Dodong Harbour shown below this text. It was impressive to have local Koreans from Ulleungdo become involved in defending Dokdo Island in an academic manner.
Historical Records and Dokdo’s Visibility From Korea’s Ulleungdo
The Japanese 1901~03 Black Dragon Fishing Manuals
In 1901 and 1903 the Shimane Prefecture-based fishing organization ‘The Black Dragon Society’ printed the book 韓海通漁指針 or Chosun (Korean) Ocean Fishing Manual. The Black Dragons were an ultranationalist organization whose views were considered extremely right-wing during Japan’s expansionist era. This publication was printed in 1901 and 1903 with both editions mentioning the visibility of Dokdo from Ulleungdo.

The relevent text is as follows “…About 30-ri south-east of Ulleungdo, and almost the same distance north-west from Japan’s Oki county, there is an uninhabited island. One can see it from the highest point of 山峯 (mountain) in Ulleungdo when the weather is fine. Korean and Japanese fishermen call it “Yanko” (Liancourt Rocks – Dokdo)…”

It is also noteworthy to mention the Black Dragon Fishing Manuals listed Dokdo Island under its Korean waters edition and also marked it down as part of Korea’s Gangwan Province. This shows the territorial perceptions of Japanese who had intimate knowledge of the waters surrounding Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Note the Hanja characters (江原道) for Gangwan Province on the left margin

Korea’s 1696 Ulleungdo Sajeok By Jang Han Sang
Around the turn of the 18th Century two important Korean documents record Dokdo’s visibility from Ulleungdo. The first record was from the Ulleugdo Sa-Jeok written in September 1694 by Inspector Jang Han Sang. After surveying Ulleungdo because it was heard the Japanese had attacked or invaded Ulleungdo, Jang Han Sang recorded what he saw.

This record reads as follows. “…Looking toward the east, there was one island far off to the southeast. The size was only about one-third the size Ulleungdo. It was only about 300 ri [120 kilometers] away…”

Jang Han Sang saw Dokdo far off and overestimated the distance. Because of this he also thought Dokdo to be much larger. Even so the Ulleungdo Sa-Jeok disproves Japanese historians’ incorrect assertions Dokdo cannot be seen from Ulleungdo’s shores.

Besides the visibility factor, this record gives and important clue as to Chosun’s territorial perceptions. In this report Jang Han Sang mentioned he saw Dokdo Island and later states he did not see Japan. Thus, is safe to conclude Korea considered Dokdo outside of Japan, yet within Korea’s sphere of influence.

Korea’s 1714 Report on Coastal Defenses
In the year 1714 there was growing concern among Chosun residents a Japanese invasion may occur. King Sukjong’s July 22nd entry records Korea’s concerns and while doing so, mentions Dokdo Island.

Gangwan Provincial emmisary Jo Seok Myeong, discussed the neglected coastal defenses in the Yeongdong region and reported the following.

“…I listened carefully to the people in the ports (浦人) who said “..Pyeonghae (平海) and Uljin (蔚珍) are the closest to Ulleungdo and there are obstructions along the sea route. Visible to the East of Ulleung is and island that is adjacent to the limits of Japan…” In 1708 and 1712 strange looking ships drifted to the borders of Gosoeng (杆城), so we know that Japanese ships frequently come and go…”

This document tells us that Koreans of the coastal region were cognizant of Dokdo Island long before the Japanese annexed the islets in 1905. Additionally Dokdo Island’s visibility from the shores of her nearest island (Korea’s Ulleungdo) is once again confirmed by this record. Lastly, the 1714 record makes it clear 18th Century Koreans excluded Dokdo from Japanese territory. Korean Emissary Cho Seok Myeong stated the island to the East of Ulleungdo was “adjacent to” or “bordering on” the limits of Japan and not part of Japan.
Twenty years later, yet another Korean historical document records Dokdo’s visibility from Chosun’s Ulleungdo Island. This record is from the year 1714.

A Scientific Approach to Visibility of Dokdo~Ulluengdo From Sea Level
The diagrams of Ulleungdo and Dokdo below are to help better understand the visual relationship between the two islands. This chart was made to determine two important pieces of data. This diagram shows at what distance Dokdo becomes visible from Ulleungdo’s East. It also proves (as the photo above does) that Ulleungdo could easily be seen from Dokdo at sea level.

The section on the chart marked in light red shows the distance at which Dokdo becomes visible from Ulleungdo’s shore. We can read, weather permitting, Dokdo can be seen from about 54km away from sea level.

Historical Images of Dokdo Island
When foreign countries’ navies began to frequent the East Sea, Korea’s surrounding waters and islands were surveyed and mapped for military purposes. The images below this text are some examples of renderings drawn by naval staff from around the 19th~20th Century. In 1857 on the left map of Dokdo below, the Russian fleet had Dokdo drawn from three positions and distances. The top left sketch is Dokdo as seen from a distance of 6.5kms the bottom left is from 9.3kms and the top right is Dokdo Island as viewed from 26kms away.

This Russian drawing shows Dokdo was highly visible from 26kms away even when viewed from the direction of Dokdo’s smallest profile at sea level. The largest top left rendering is Dokdo’s profile drawn being viewed from the West to East (similar to being viewed from Ulleungdo). All images are as seen with the naked eye. Dokdo’s West islet is named Olivutsa and the East is called Menelai.

Above right are the actual images of Dokdo Island drawn by the Russian Navy. On the left is the logbooks from the Japanese Warship Niitaka. Note the crude picture of Dokdo drawn as seen from Ulleungdo with binoculars.
To the right above are actual images of the Japanese Imperial Navy battle cruiser Niitaka from her September 1904 logbooks. On the right page is a picture of Dokdo as seen from Ulleungdo’s southeast Japanese naval watchtower using binoculars. Although Dokdo’s image was magnified with binoculars it can be confirmed Dokdo was on a visible viewing plane even when not seen from Ulleungdo’s highest peak. This Japanese naval map shows the location of the southeast watchtower.
Dokdo Island, A Visual Study and Territorial Perceptions, Conclusion
The Japanese current claim to Takeshima is strongly based on her records of cognizance of Takeshima. However, there is an inherent problem with Japan’s historical references, that being none of them prior to the 1905 military annexation of Dokdo are proof of territorial claim. In reality these maps and documents either show Japan had no interest in Dokdo or considered the island as Chosun territory. In addition of the historic Japanese maps that exist they too fall short of supporting Japanese claim.

Korea’s inferior maps and records often force them to rely on Japan’s more advanced 19th Century western cartography skills or military records to support their claim. These records show Koreans were both cognizant and involved on Dokdo prior to Japan’s 1905 Shimane Prefecture Inclusion of Dokdo.

Separate of all the historical records, Korea’s claim to Dokdo from a purely visual and geographical standpoint is much stronger than that of Japan’s. Historically Ulleungdo’s close proximity to Dokdo played an important role in determining possession of Dokdo to Japan. Of the few Japanese records that exist about Matsushima, (Dokdo) few if any of them, are separate of Ulleungdo. Historical records showed Dokdo belonged to neither Japan nor Korea but rather was considered an appended or sister island to Ulleungdo. Thus Dokdo belonged to Ulleungdo, and Ulleungdo was “ceded” to Korea in 1696….

Common sense tells us Koreans who had lived within visual proximity of Dokdo for a thousand years before the Japanese arrival on Ulleungdo (link) must have been cognizant of Dokdo Island. As the above maps and records show Koreans had the ability to sail two days to Ulleungdo from the Korean mainland at will. To think these people who relied on marine products to survive couldn’t or didn’t travel the extra few hours East of Ulleungdo to see Dokdo simply doesn’t make sense.