Dokdo in the Early 20th Century

Dokdo and the Early 20th Century – Japanese Territorial Perceptions
Japanese records from the early 1900s show Dokdo as part of Korea’s Gangwan Province.
The following images are various Japanese documents related to both Korea’s Ulleungdo Island and her neighbor island Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) The purpose is to determine the territorial perceptions of those Japanese who “resided” on Ulleungdo as well as those who fished around Dokdo Island. How did Japanese of the early 1900s perceive these islands? Did they consider Dokdo Japanese land?

From a political standpoint, we know Japan as a nation did not consider Dokdo part of Japan this can be seen on numerous historical national maps of Japan found on this website. We also know the highest authority in Japan concluded that Ulleungdo and other islands were not part of Shimane in this document. This page deals less with the political views of Japan but rather those Japanese who had an intimate knowledge of the region. Through the following documents we can ascertain if the activities of these Japanese nationals are a valid basis for Japan’s historical claim to Dokdo.

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 Korea’s Ulleungdo that was swarmed by Japanese illegal squatters and fishermen by the turn of the 20th Century.
A basic study of the geography of the region shows us what exactly the Japanese fishermen had to contend with in order to harvest the abundant marine resources Korea’s Ulleungdo Island and Dokdo had to offer. First, the distance to Dokdo Island made it impractical, if not impossible to fish directly to and from the Japanese mainland to the islets. Fishing from the nearest Japanese land would mean a journey of over 300kms return.

The early 20th Century was still the era of steamships and sailboats and historical records show the fishing vessels of these Japanese were quite modest. The 20th Century documents that follow, record the problems Japanese fishermen had with fresh water on Dokdo. This hampered Japanese access to the island and limited the duration they could stay. These factors would play a role in determining whether or not Japanese nationals who voyaged to the region considered Dokdo part of Japan or as appended to Ulleungdo Island.

The 1901 Edition of the Japanese Black Dragon Fishing Guide
In 1901 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 early March of 1901.

The above images are the cover of the Black Dragon Fishing guide. The date written is March 6th 34th year of Meiji (1901) Click pictures for larger image.
Both the 1901 and 1903 editions of the Black Dragon Fishing guide list Yankodo (Dokdo) in the same manner. On page 90 the chapter descibing Gangwan Province, Korea begins. Later on page 93, in the same chapter, there is a passage describing Dokdo. The most relevant information highlighted for the readers states “Koreans and Japanese fishermen call this island Yangkodo…”

This fishing guide was published in March of 1901 for the upcoming fishing season. Thus the data regarding Dokdo was gathered from the previous year (1900). This small passage confirms Korean cognizance of Dokdo at least five years before the Japanese annexed the so-called “ownerless island.” Also, it can be confirmed Koreans on Ulleungdo were aware of Dokdo at the time Ordinance 41 incorporating the islets was declared in October of 1900.

The 1901 Edition of The Japanese Black Dragon Guide lists Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) under Korean territory (韓國) and Gangwan Province (江原道) as the regions from the start of the chapter. It also confirms Korean cognizance of Dokdo at least five years before the Japanese annexed the island.
The 1903 Edition of the Japanese Black Dragon Fishing Guide

The images above are pages from a Japanese right-wing group called the Black Dragons. On the second page above, Dokdo is listed under Gangwon Province (Korea) and bracketed under Ulleungdo Island. In addition the manual is titled The Black Dragon’s Chosun Fishing Guide
Translation of the 1903 Japanese Black Dragon Fishing Guide.
The second page above is the Black Dragon Chosun Fishing Guide’s index (click image). Highlighted in red by the author is the subtitle for Korea’s Gangwan Province and bracketed below is “Yangkodo” or Liancourt Rocks. This shows that those Japanese fishermen who frequented the region regarded Dokdo as both part of Korea (Gangwan Province) and as an appended island of Ulleungdo. Surely, if the Japanese fishermen of the day regarded Liancourt Rocks as part of Japan, the island would not be in a Korean fishing manual listed under the jurisdiction of Gangwan Province and bracketed under Korea’s Ulleungdo Island.
The relevant 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 (Seong-In Mountain) on Ulleungdo when the weather is fine.

Korean and Japanese fishermen call it “Yanko”, its length is about 10-cho. Its coast is full of bends and twists, thus, it’s easy for fishing boats to be in anchor and to escape winds and waves. However, it is very difficult to get firewood and drinking water, one can dig the ground for several shaku (1.0 – 1.5meters) from the surface but hard to get water.

There is an abundance of sea lions that live on the island and the area around the island has many abalone, sea cucumber and agar. A few years ago. a ship with diving equipment from Yamaguchi prefecture went fishing but they couldn’t engage in this business and went home as they were obstructed by many sea lions while they were diving and because due to a shortage of drinking water. It’s concluded that the obstruction may have been because of period of giving birth, since it was just May or June.

There are good locations for wickerwork shark trapping around there, longline fishing boats from Oita prefecture went shark fishing there in May or June since several years before. We asked a fisherman who returned from the points last spring and he said that although he couldn’t say they got enough catch because he had been there for only two or three times but he also added that they got a certain catch every year. He then said that from his professional point of view after viewing the state of the wickerwork fish trap and how sharks and fish were living, it was likely that the area would be a good fishing ground in the future. This island is worth looking into for business…”

The above images are pictures of Dokdo Island from Korea’s Ulleungdo Island. These photos disprove assertions from Japanese historians that Dokdo is not visible from Korean territory. Numerous historical records describe Dokdo’s visibility from Korea’s Ulleungdo, indisputably Korean land since the 6th Century. (click pictures for larger image)
The above document is confirmation of a few facts. First Japanese Takeshima lobbyists have often doubted Korean assertions that Dokdo was visible from Ulleungdo. However, the 1903 Black Dragon’s Chosun Fishing Manual is documented historical proof that Dokdo is in fact visible from Ulleungdo’s peaks.

Korean cognizance of Dokdo is also confirmed by the Black Dragon’s Chosun fishing manual. It is clearly stated Korean and Japanese fishermen call this island Yangko (dialect of Liancourt). This Japanese document is confirmation of Korea’s awareness of Dokdo about three years before the Japanese military annexed the island in 1905.

Dokdo Island’s lack of drinking water is also mentioned here. This would severly hamper the ability of Japanese to stay on Liancourt Rocks for any extended period of time or to venture there from distant territories such as mainland Japan itself.

The 1904 Japanese Guide to Business in Korea

Above: These images again show how Japanese described Dokdo as part of Korea’s Gangwan Province (江原道) in a book about Korea. It also treats the island as being appended to Ulleungdo Island (鬱陵島)
In 1904 this guide was published for the purpose of informing Japanese nationals the nature of doing business in Korea. Within this publication was a section about business (fishing etc.) in Kangwan Province.

This book treats Dokdo Island (Liancourt-Yankodo) is much the same way as the Japanese Black Dragon Fishing manual in how it lists Ulleungdo and Dokdo. On the center page above can be seen the heading for Gangwan Province (江原道) with Ulleungdo (鬱陵島) as the next chapter. The following page continues from there and the next chapter gives a brief description of “Yangkodo-ヤンコ島” (Dokdo) The following chapter describes Jukpyeon on Korea’s mainland in Kangwando. In other words this manual again lists Dokdo more as Korean territory. The page itself decribing Dokdo is titled “Korean Business Guide”

Below is a translation of the relevent text:

“…Yankodo (Liancourt Rocks/Dokdo) Yankodo is in the center between Ulleungdo and Japan’s Oki Island at a distance of about 30ri. Even if mooring is available offshore, it’s difficult to find firewood and drinking water. Abalone, sea cucumber, agar-agar can be harvested offshore. Even though many sharks inhabit the waters, many can’t be caught because of the sealions in the area…”

A 1902 Japanese Status Report Regarding the Situtation On Ulleungdo Island
In 1902 Japanese document entitled, “Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Trade, Document Section: Trade Documents” (外務省通商局編纂 通商彙纂) was printed. The appendix is titled, “Situation on Korea’s Ulleungdo,” and it talks in detail about Ulleungdo’s geography, climate, population, products, commerce, fishing, transportation, moorage, and epidemics.

This record provides information on both Ulleungdo Island and Dokdo. It gives us some insight into the true situation on Ulleungdo and even details some of the problems Koreans were having with the Japanese trespassers there. Also, it describes the Koreans who sailed hundreds of kilometers from Cholla Province to visit the Ulleungdo region. There is also a brief passage about Dokdo (Yangkodo) in the fishing section.

A Translation From the 1902 Japanese Report on Korea’s Ulleungdo Island
Section 2 – Situation of Korean Residents on the Island
“…There are no Koreans on this island who lived there since ancient times. Twenty-one years ago four people immigrated from Gangwon Province (江原道): Bae Gye-ju (裵季周)、Kim Dae-mok (金大木)、Byeon Gyeong-un (卞敬云)、and Jeon Sa-il (田士日). They reclaimed land between the mountains, made farming land, and worked as farmers. The following year Hwang Jong-hae (?鐘海)、Choi Do-su (崔島守)、Jeon Sa-un (田士雲)、Kim Hwa-cho (金花椒)、Hong Bong-yo (洪奉堯)、and Lee Son-pal (李孫八) came from the Gangneung region of Gangwon Province (江原道江陵地方), and Jang Kyeon-i (張敬伊) came from somewhere in the Cholla Province (全羅道). All together seven people came to the island. Every year since then, many people immigrated from four provinces: Gangwon (江原), Gyeongsang (慶?), Hamgyeong (咸鏡), and Cholla (全羅). Their homes were scattered, and they cultivated the land in earnest, engaging wholly in farming. There are only a few who engaged in fishing. The soil in the southeast portion of the island is black and better than the soil on the Joseon mainland. However, the northwest portion of the island is barren land and farming is not productive…”
Locations of Koreans and Japanese on Ulleungdo in the year 1902
The publication above is a valuable source of information because it also tells us the locations of Korean residents and those Japanese who visited Ulleungdo Island. Below are listed the number of Korean and Japanese households in each village as well as a Japanese historical map of Ulleungdo showing the relevant areas. Click all maps for a larger image.
Dodong (道洞) – 27 Korean; 36 Japanese
Bokdong (伏洞) – 10 Korean; 2 Japanese
Jungryeong (中嶺) – 30 Korean; 2 Japanese
Tonggumi (通龜尾) – 20 Korean; 5 Japanese
Gul-am (窟巖) – 7 Korean
Sanmak-gok (山幕谷) – 26 Korean
Hyangmokdong (香木洞) – 17 Korean
Sinchon (新村) – 35 Korean; 1 Japanese
Chusan (錐山) – 7 Korean; 1 Japanese
Cheonnyeon-po (千年浦) – 6 Korean
Cheonbudong (天府洞) – 16 Korean
Jongseokdong (亭石洞) – 20 Korean
Naesujeon (乃守田) – 11 Korean; 2 Japanese
Sagongnam (砂工南) – 2 Korean
Sadong (沙洞) – 40 Korean; 2 Japanese
Sinri (新里) – 7 Korean
Ganryeong (間嶺) – 10 Korean
Namyangdong (南陽洞) – 57 Korean; 9 Japanese
Sucheung (水層) – 1 Korean; 1 Japanese
Daehadong (臺霞洞) – 34 Korean; 6 Japanese
Hyeon-po (玄浦) – 50 Korean
Gwangam (光岩) – 10 Korean
Naridong (羅里洞) – 30 Korean
Changdong (昌洞) – 6 Korean; 2 Japanese
Jukam (竹岩) – 11 Korean; 5 Japanese
Wadalli (臥達里) – 2 Korean
Jeodong (苧洞) – 62 Korean; 5 Japanese
The map to the left illustrates the difference between Korean and Japanese “residents” of Ulleungdo Island at the turn of the 20th Century.

This chart shows the location of the Japanese Naval watchtowers installed on Ulleungdo. Japanese watchtowers are marked as “望樓” and we it can be observed Japan had installed 3 military watchtowers at the time of this map’s printing in 1905.

At the bottom of this map there is a key explaining the locations of Korean and Japanese villages. The Japanese villages are described as “日本人部落居留” and the Korean settlements are described as “韓人部落”. Translated this means “..Japanese settlements on foreign land and Korean settlements…”

This clearly demonstrates the Japanese presence on Ulleungdo was seen as transient or temporary. With the activities of Japanese on Liancourt conducted almost exclusively through this illegal squatting on Ulleungdo, it’s unlikely they considered Liancourt Rocks as part of Japan.

Section 7 – Of the 1902 Ulleungdo Report – The Fishing Situation on Ulleungdo
“..The fishing season on the island is usually from March to September, and the marine products are only abalone, blowfish. agar weed, laver, and a few kinds of wakame seaweed. Most fishermen come from Amakusa of Kumamoto (熊本ノ天草), Oki in Shimane (島根ノ?岐) and Shima region in Mie (三重ノ志摩地方). There are absolutely no Korean fishermen on the island, but many do come each year from Samdo (三島) in Cholla Province (全羅道) to collect the brown seaweed (wakame) which grows thickly on the seashore. [Samdo (三島) was present-day Keomundo (巨文島).]

Also, about fifty nautical ri due east from the island, there are three small islands called “Ryanko-do” (Liancourt Rocks), which Japanese residents call Matsushima. There is abalone on the island, so some fishermen go there. However, drinking water on the island is scarce, so it is impossible to fish there for long periods. They come back to this island (Ulleungdo) after four or five days there…”

The above section regarding fishing on Ulleungdo confirms some facts. Japanese Takeshima lobbyists have long asserted those Koreans who resided on Ulleungdo were farmers and lacked the nautical skills to have sailed to Dokdo. However, as stated above, many Koreans on Ulleungdo sailed annually to Ulleungdo from as far away as Geomundo in Cholla Province.

This is a distance of about 550kms which is quite incredible. As far back as Leegyuwon’s 1882 survey and diary of Ulleungdo it was also recorded Koreans came to Ulleungdo by boat from Geomunddo, Chodo, and Nagan of Jolla Province. Leegyuwon among others recorded these Koreans as carpenters and building boats on Ulleungdo from the abundance of timber.

The map to the right is a map showing Korea’s South Cholla Province highlighted in pink. Marked in bright green marks the possible route of how these brave people travelled a remarkable distance every spring to reach Ulleungdo.

The other portion of section seven gives us a brief insight of Japanese activities on Yankodo (Liancourt Rocks) Japanese fishing on Liancourt was done from Ulleungdo not due to preference but rather out of necessity. Dokdo’s lack of fresh water limited the duration these fishermen could stay. These fishermen it seems could not have fished on Liancourt directly from Japan. Travelling from Oki Islands would more than doubled their travel time, left them exposed to the elements and expended their fresh water. As mentioned, fishing on Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) from the Japanese mainland was impractical, if not impossible.
Pages 9 and 10 of the 1902 Reoprt on Ulleungdo
The last two pages of this guide reinforce the data from the map above. Pages nine and ten record the home prefectures of these Japanese on Ulleungdo. It can be read here, most of these illegal squatters living on Ulleungdo were from Shimane Prefecture. Even in the eyes of the Japanese themselves they were not true residents of Ulleungdo.

In the 1883, Japanese trespassers had to be forcibly removed by the Japanese government and a travel ban to Ulleungdo declared. However, by the turn of the century they had overwhelmed the Koreans to the point where Japanese police had to be permanently stationed on Ulleungdo to control the problem. Again we see Japanese activities on Liancourt Rocks were conducted via the civilian invasion of Ulleungdo.

The Logbooks of the Japanese Warship Niitaka – September 25th, 1904
In the fall of 1904, while in the process of installing military facilities on Korea’s Ulleungdo Island the Japanese Warship Niitaka’s logbooks have a small passage about Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo Island) In this brief writing Korean cognizance of the island is confirmed. In addition, it can be understood the name of Dokdo was used by Koreans of the day before Japan annexed the islets only six months later.

Above: The September 1904 logbooks of the Japanese Warship Niitaka are clear evidence Koreans were well aware of the island before Japan seized the rocks. Also, the name “Dokdo” was being used by Koreans at this time.
“…The following is an account of Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo Island) from an actual observer while on Matsushima (Ulleungdo Island). Liancourt Rocks, Koreans call these rocks Dokdo while Japanese fishermen call then Riangko in short. As described in the attached paper, it consists of two rocks. The West islet is about 400 feet in height, and too precipitous to climb….”

Page 5
“The East Islet, however, is relatively low with weeds , and the top of it is flat. It is suitable to have two or three buildings built on it. A small quantity of salt water runs out at the East mouth of the East islet. Ground water flows out in all directions from 5.4 meters below the surface at South of the East islet marked “B”. (see attached map on page 7 above) It is quite a large amount and never dries up year round. There is clear water (fresh water) at the West end of the West islet marked “C” (see attached map page 7 above) as well. The scattered rocks around the islet are flat, and the large ones are so wide that they could have dozens of tattami (Japanese floor mats) on top. They stand above the surface all of the time. There are also a number of sea lions here. Boats can connect the two islets, and a small boat can be pulled up onto the shore. There are always strong winds blowing, and when strong winds are blowing fishermen usually return to Matsushima (Ulleungdo Island). It is said that they made a voyage from Matsushima (Ulleungdo Island), climb up the island and built a hut with sea lion hunters by using a Japanese boat with a capacity of 60~70 stones. They stay there ten days on each trip…”

Page 6
“and they caught many fish. There are some times when the number of people exceeded forty or fifty. He says that he has made several voyages across to the island within this year due to lack of water…”

Here again it is recorded Ulleungdo Island was the base from which fishing and sea lion hunting was undertaken. Also it is said lack of fresh water restricted the length of time fishermen and seal hunters could stay on Liancourt Rocks…”

Dokdo and Early 20th Century Japanese Territorial Perceptions
Historical records tell us Japanese of the early 20th Century considered Dokdo as Korean territory.
The above documents are not cited as a basis for Korea to lay claim to Dokdo. These papers are intended as a common sense, practical attempt to paint a picture of the territorial perceptions of the Japanese who were intimately involved on both Ulleungdo and Dokdo immediately before the Japanese military annexed the island. Who better than the (illegal) Japanese residents of Ulleungdo knew the national boundaries of Japan?

The Japanese residents of Ulleungdo were illegal squatters and they were aware that their situation on the island was tenuous at best. They were usually transient residents who seasonally fished Ulleungdo’s waters and then returned to their home prefectures in the fall. Under Chosun~Japanese fishing regulation agreements of the day, Japanese fishermen had to pay taxes on marine resources they harvested however they did not. This is not an attempt to vilify these Japanese but rather to shed light on their situation in the region. That is, would squatters who were knowingly illegally logging, fishing and residing on Ulleungdo consider Dokdo as part of Japan? This contrasts sharply with the nature of Koreans who permanently settled on Ulleungdo legally year-round and were involved in agriculture and fishing.

As shown above, Japanese fishing and sealing activity on Liancourt Rocks was conducted via Ulleungdo not Japan. This was due to a few factors, such as Dokdo’s long distance from Japan, lack of fresh water and the harsh marine environment of the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

At more than 300 kms return, a voyage from the nearest landfall to these barren rocks was hazardous for Japanese fishermen who used light fishing craft. Liancourt Rocks stands in the middle of the East Sea. The waters surrounding Liancourt are often very heavy seas with 150 days of precipitation annually. Eight-five percent of the time this region is either cloudy, rainy, snowy. Dokdo, being essentially a collection of barren rocks could offer no shelter from this harsh environment.

Dokdo’s lack of fresh water is mentioned in almost every record giving a detailed description of the situation on Liancourt. The best historical record of the availability of potable water on Liancourt Rocks is again from the Japanese warship Tsushima’s November 1904 survey. “..There are several other places where water runs down along the mountainsides from the top, but the quantity is not much and the water routes are contaminated with sealion excrement. The test result for chemicals came out as below, and it verifies that the water is anything but drinkable…To be brief, the main island is barren, bare rocks exposed to the violent ocean winds, but no area of good size is to be found to give shelter. No fuels for cooking, no drinking water, no food.”

Because of the aforementioned facts, Japanese fishing and seal hunting around Dokdo had to be done almost exclusively from the most proximate land mass, Korea’s Ulleungdo Island. Therefore, it’s not surprising those who knew the situation on Ulleungdo and Liancourt Rocks the best, regarded Dokdo as part of Gangwando Province or as appended to Ulleungdo even months before the Japanese annexed the island.