Japan’s Marcus Island Annexation & Dokdo

Dokdo and Marcus Island – A Comparison of Japanese 19th Century Island “Incorporations”
Japanese “lawless adventurers” were utilized by 19th Century Meiji Japan as agents of expansionism.
A brief background of Marcus Island:

Minamitori-shima (南鳥島) or Marcus Island is an isolated island in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, located at 24.18’N, 153.58’E. The Japanese meaning of the name is “Southern Bird Island”. It is 1.2 kms in area. It is the easternmost territory belonging to Japan, some 1 848 km SE of Tokyo, or 1 267 East of the closest Japanese island, South Iwo Jima of the Ogasawara Islands, and nearly on a straight line between Tokyo and Wake Island, which is 1 415 km ESE. The closest island, however, is Farallon de Pajaros of the Mariana Islands, which is 1021 km WSW of Minamitori Shima.

The island is first mentioned in 1864, given a position by a US survey ship in 1874, and first landed on by Kiozaemon Saito in 1879. Japan officially annexed the island July 24, 1898, the US claim from 1889 according to the Guano Islands Act being not officially acknowledged.

Above left image: This map shows Japan and her outlying islands. Marcus Island is on the lower right side of the map. Above right: An aerial photograph of Marcus Island showing the airfield and communications tower. (click)
How is Japan’s 1898 annexation of Marcus Island related to the Dokdo~Takeshima dispute?
Koreans assert Japan’s 1905 incorporation of Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima) was seriously flawed because Japan failed to announce her intent in an “open and public manner”. Indeed records show the only public notice given during Shimane Prefecture’s annexation of Takeshima was a tiny ad in a local newspaper. On the other hand, when Japan decided to claim the Bonin Islands (Ogasawaras) both the U.S. and Britian were notified numerous times, though they were remotely involved in the islands.

Japan’s MOFA states that her annexation of Liancourt Rocks was identical to her incorporation of Marcus island and thus both were legal. On this matter the Japanese seem to be correct. Purely from a legal standpoint Japan’s incorporation of Marcus Island is comparable to Dokdo. However, does this fact help to support Japan’s argument in the Dokdo – Takeshima problem? Through the study of old historical records from Japan’s National Archives this page points out some flaws in Japan’s Marcus Island claim and how they relate to Dokdo – Takeshima.

The Origin of the Marcus Island Dispute of 1902 Between the U.S. and Japan.
In 1889 a small trader named Captain James Rosehill happened upon Marcus Island. He hoped to utilize the island for coconuts however he soon realized it had vast guano (bird feces) deposits that could be sold for fertilizer in Hawaii. Captain Rosehill then hoisted the American flag atop a coconut tree. From there Captain Rosehill fastened a bottle to a tree in which was a note that he had taken formal possession of the island in the name of the United States. Rosehill’s crew signed the note to witness the event.

Captian Rosehill failed to push through his application to incorporate the island and in the meantime the Japanese claimed Marcus Island as part of the Ogasawara Islands group in 1898. In 1902 when Rosehill finally decided to persue his activities on Marcus Island further, the result was a diplomatic row between the United States and Japan. The dispute that followed almost lead to a military showdown between the two nations. The purpose of the page is not to argue who had superior title but rather a close look at Japan’s land claim legal practices.

Marcus Island and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) – Japan’s Display of Incorporation Not Public
The two Japanese news articles found here are what amounted to Japan’s public announcent when she acquired Marcus Island in 1898. Next to them are Japan’s newspaper article when she annexed Takeshima in 1905. One can see that they are almost identical.

Were the following “declarations” sufficient to be classified as “open and public” as territorial land claims must be?

The two images to the left are Japan’s newspaper articles “announcing” the annexation of Marcus Island (Minamitori-shima) The image on the right is Shimane Prefecture’s news article declaring a tiny nameless rock as Takeshima (Dokdo) and thus part of Japan. (click)
Four years after Japan laid claim to Marcus Island, Captain Rosehill and the American Government also attempted to annex Marcus Island. Obviously the U.S. Government was not aware Japan had incorporated Marcus Island many years earlier and this shows Japan’s “public announcement” was insufficient. Japan’s inadequate publicity of Marcus Island’s claim caused a diplomatic row between the nations which almost erupted into a military conflict.

Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Baron Jutaro Komura (shown right) was involved in both the Marcus Island dispute and the incorporation of Takeshima. Knowing this, why didn’t Japan’s Foreign Affairs Office change their procedure in 1905 to prevent another international conflict? Why was Takeshima’s “public announcement” done in the same stealthy manner as Marcus Island?

Komura must have known a local newspaper ad, questionably “open and public”, would not attract the attention of other interested sovereigns. It’s quite obvious, the Japanese did not want their annexation of Takeshima to be widely known. A further study of the questionable legal procedure of Takeshima’s annexation is on this page (link)

The above images are news articles detailing U.S. reaction to Japan’s annexation of Marcus Island. The dispute arose out of Japan’s failure to give an adequate public announcement of her incorporation. Strangely enough, Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima) was annexed by Japan just three years later in the same manner. (click)
Marcus Island and Dokdo – Takeshima Japan’s Use of Unlawful Activities To Seize Territory
Nakai Yozaburo and Mijutane, Japan’s MOFA utilized poachers for 19th Century land claims.
In 1905 a Japanese citizen named Nakai Yozaburo applied to lease Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima) thus Shimane Prefecture incorporated the islets using his involvement in the region as its basis. Jutaro Komura was one of three politicians involved in the processing of Nakai’s application. Who was Nakai Yozaburo? Nakai Yozaburo was a Japanese fisherman who was illegally squatting on Korea’s Ulleungdo Island. During his unlawful voyages to Chosun territory Nakai began to hunt seals on Liancourt Rocks from his illigitimate base on Ulleungdo. (see link)
In 1898, a Japanese citizen named Mijutane applied to lease Marcus Island and thus placed it under the local government of Tokyo. Who was Mijutane? In late 1800s Japanese citizens based in Yokahama were involved in the wholesale massacre of sea birds all across the North Pacific. These rogue poachers sailed to many of the outlying islands of the Pacific, including America’s Hawaiian Islands group, Midway Island, Laskiansky Island and others. Hundreds of thousands of sea fowl were slaughtered for their feathers and the carcasses often left to rot. The center of this illegal killing was a “firm” called Kametoki & Mijutane in Yokahama. These poachers were of course Mijutane’s aforementioned crew of bird hunters used for the basis of Japan’s claim to Marcus Island in 1898. (read original records below)

Strangely enough, Nakai Yozaburo who would be involved in Korean waters, Ulleungdo and Dokdo had plans to make it rich on the Ogasawara Islands (see maps above)

Documents from Japan’s National Archives record Japan’s annexation of Marcus Island under the name of Minamitori-shima (南鳥島) or “Southern Bird Island” (click images for larger picture)
During the 1902 Marcus Island disagreement of 1902 Japan’s Foreign Affairs Office cited the activities of bird hunters for proof of title. This is shown in Komura Jutaro’s letter during the 1902 Marcus Island dispute. Komura stated, “…The island (Marcus) was leased to a Japanese subject named Mijutane who had been engaged in bird hunting and fishing on the island…” Komura also falsely claimed around twenty Japanese were settled on Marcus Island.

The two images on the above left are Japan’s Foreign Affairs Office’s position on Marcus Island. Their claim that the island was permanently settled by Japanese nationals is highly questionable. Above right are some related newspaper articles. (click images)
Around mid-1903, the shocking truth about these Japanese poachers in the Pacific finally came to the attention of the National Audubon Society and the U.S. Government. The resulting correspondence revealed the serious environmental damage caused by Mijutane’s company. What also became clear was the total disregard for territorial boundaries by these criminals.

When the U.S. Government confronted the Japanese Foreign Affairs Office about the rampant destruction of sea fowl on American islands Komura Jutaro’s reply is somewhat shocking. Komura promised to issue instructions to all Japanese captains demanding an end to bird killing on American territory. However, he added that he could not promise they would obey the ban as “these men were largely composed of lawless adventurers..” Komura also admitted this slaughtering was committed by Mijutane of Yokohama.

Above images: American Foreign Affairs papers record the anger of both American naturalists and politicians over the mass killing of sea fowl on America’s outlying islands. Komura later regards these hunters as outlaws yet used their activities on Marcus Island as basis for land title. (click)
In other words, Japan’s title to Marcus Island (much like Takeshima~Dokdo) was acquired in the process of Japanese citizens unlawfully poaching marine resources from her neighbors. This situation mirrors Korea’s dilemma in the Ulleungdo region where literally hundreds of Japanese squatters overwhelmed the island to the point that Japanese police had to be stationed there.
Marcus Island and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) – Japan’s False Claims of Settlement~Occupation
On January 28th 1905, Shimane Prefecture’s Cabinet announced their incorporation of Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima). The announcement stated “We have examined the matter and found that there is a fact of occupation under the international law as it is clear from related documents that Nakai Yozaburo moved to the island since the 36thyear of Meiji (1903) and has engaged in fishery there.” In reality Nakai Yozaburo was not settled on Takeshima but rather illegally conducting his business from Korea’s Ulleungdo. (link)

In much the same manner, when Japan annexed Marcus Island it was stated that the island was settled continuously and permanently by around twenty Japanese citizens. (link)Did Japan really have permanent residents living on Marcus Island as Komura Jutaro stated? A few records from the turn of the 20th Century reveal the truth.

The first record was a hand-written accord by Captain Rosehill himself. How he describes the Japanese on Marcus Island shows they were anything but residents. Rosehill writes “…They were Japanese traders and were engaged in catching birds and fish and numbered about 45 some women and children amongst them. From what our Chief Officer could make out they were waiting for a sailing vessel to take them off, and that when they sighted our lights, they thought it was the expected vessel…” (link) These people were of course the same crew employed by Mijutane of Yokahama responsible for killing birds on other Pacific islands, not permanent citizens of Marcus Island.

Above images. Captain Rosehill describes his voyage to Marcus Island. Rosehill stated the Japanese on the island were not permanent residents but rather migrant bird hunters and fishermen. The image on the above right is a press release that records news that Japan admitted Marcus Island’s inhabitants were not settlers but nomadic.
Marcus Island and Dokdo – Japan’s Illegal Incorporation of Territory in the 19th Century
When we look closely at Japan’s land acquisitions of the 19th Century, a definite pattern emerges. Initially Japanese encroachment started with trespassing by an adventurous few who brazenly disregarded the territorial boundaries of Japan’s neighbors. From there often came a mass of settlers who would overwhelm the indigenous peoples. This would lead to a displacement of the original inhabitants or as on Korea’s Ulleungdo a gradual overwhelming of the native population.

These criminals gave the Japanese government a win~win situation. They could use the trespassers’ activities as a means to incorporate territory and at the same time “wash their hands clean” of their violations by saying these lawbreakers had nothing to do with the Japanese government. This was clearly displayed by Komura Jutaro’s slick double-talk uncovered by cross-referencing two different foreign affairs records. To refer to the individuals used a basis for land title as a “lawless adventurers” speaks volumes about the legitimacy of Japan’s land claim practices.

Whether it be Japan’s displacement of the Ainu Moshiri on Hokkaido, the assassination of Ryukyu’s politicians, or the invasion of the Japan’s outlying islands (ie Ulleungdo~Takeshima) the results were the same. The loyal subjects of Japan invaded the areas and countries in Asia and the Pacific as soldiers, police, landlords, civil servants, farmer-and fisherman-migrants, tradesmen, and agents of aggressive business enterprises (Nakai Yozaburo and Mijutane)

Perhaps under the colonial era laws of land claim these acquisitions could be viewed as legitimate. However Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very misguided to think they can force back the hands of time and reclaim Takeshima using the political circumstances of Korea/Asia in 1905 as a premise.