The 1877 Japanese Kobunruko Documents

Japan’s Meiji Government Formally Excludes Dokdo from Japan Again
The following record is yet another piece of evidence that proves Japan did not include Dokdo Island (called Liancourt Rocks by some nations or Takeshima by Japan) from the definition of Japan. The map to the right is an overall map of Korea’s East coast, Ulleungdo Island, Dokdo Island and Japa’s West coast.

During the formative years of the Meiji Government the Home Ministry began to task of mapping the entire nation of Japan prefecture by prefecture. Of course Japan’s Shimane Prefecture which included the Oki Islands and westermost regions of Japan were included within this process. In the year 1877 Shimane Prefecture inquired to the Home Ministry if Ulleungdo and another island (Dokdo) should be placed under their administrative control. The purpose of this inquiry was to determine which territories were included before mapping Japan.

The Japanese Meiji Government Inquiry Documents and Translation
The document reads as follows:

“…Inquiry regarding the compilation of the cadastre for Takeshima and “another island” in the Sea of Japan…”

“…Shimane Prefecture sent us an inquiry for a judgement on the jurisdiction of Takeshima as per attachments and this ministry has examined the matter. Regarding the islands in question, they are known to have nothing to do with our country as per documents prepared in the first month of the 9th year of the Genruko (1696) after the entry of the Koreans into the island. 1. the purport of the deliberation by the former government 2. notification of the official interpretor translator 3. the official letter from the country involved 4. our country’s reply and report. In other words by the 12th year of the Genroku, the exchange of instruments had been completed. However, the acquisition or derelection of a territory being of great importance, we request your instruction on this question with the papers attached hereto. March 17th 10th year of Meiji. Acting for the Minister of Home Affairs Okubo Toshimichi, Vice Minister of Home Affairs Meijima Hisoka…”

The Dajokan’s (Japan’s Highest Authority’s) Response
The answer to the inquiry read as follows:

“…Regarding Takeshima and “other island” it is to be understood that our country has nothing to do with them…”

The disputed area of contention with regard to this document is the ambiguity of the “other island” passage. This is clarified in the attached documents describing both Ulleungdo and the island “next to” it. The maps and documents attached are translated below.

What was the “Other Island” is the Inquiry?
The Government (Dajokan) goes on in detail about the Ulleungdo and the adjacent waters.

“…磯竹島 (Isotakeshima or Isotakejima) has another name, 竹島 (Takeshima). It is north-west of Oki province (隱岐國) and the distance from Oki is 120 Ri (里). The circumference is 10Ri (里). There is a steep mountain and flat fields are rare. It has three streams and there is a fall also. But, starting points of the streams cannot be seen since valleys are so deep and forest of trees and bamboos are so dense. Plants which catch one’s eye are goryo pines, rose wood, amur cork tree, camellia, oak, paulownia, Wikstroemia sikokiana, southern Japanese hemlock, bamboo, mano bamboo, wild carrot, longstamen onion, Japanese butterbur, Japanese ginger, udo, lily, edible burdock, cherry elaeagnus, raspberry, giant knotweed, Japanese aucuba.

Animals are sea lion, cat, rat, varied tit, pigeon, wild duck, brown-eared bulbul, oriental greenfinch, wild duck, cormoant, swallow, golden eagle, eagle, hawk, nadikoana(?) bird, great tit, and so on. Also found are cinnabar and malachite. Fishes and shellfishes are too many to enumera. (The island) yields sea lions and ear shells. To catch ear shells, in the evening, input bamboo into the sea, and in the morning, ear shells are on the leaves of the bamboo. It is said that the taste is very good. And (we can) obtain several 斗’s(unit of the volume) oils from a sea-lion.

Next, there is “another island” called 松島 (Matsushima). The circumference is 30 Jung( 町), It is on the way to 竹島 (Ulleungdo). The distance from Oki is 80 Ri(里). Trees and a bamboos are rare. (The island) yields fishes and sea lions, too.

During 永? period, a merchant, 大屋甚吉 (Ohya Jinkichi) [Later, he changed his name to 大谷], who lived in 伯耆國 會見郡 米子町 (present Yonago city in Tottori prefecture) was hit by typhoon on the way back from 越後 (Echigo; Niigata prefecture), and drifted to this place. (He) investigated the whole island and noticed that there are a lot of fishes and shellfishes. Afterreturning home, (he) asked the Investigator, Abe Shirogoro who was staying in Yonago Castle by order of Shogunate, to allow him to visit there. Abe asked it to Edo, and received a letter of permission on May 16 of the 元和 4 year (1618)… “

No other islands besides Ulleungdo and Dokdo are mentioned in any part of this document.

The three documents above describe Ulleungdo and Dokdo in clear detail leaving little doubt as to the identity of the “other island” excluded from Japan. Maps of Japan printed after the Home Ministry’s Inquiry consistenty omitted Dokdo from Japan (see below)
The Attached Map of the 1877 Kobunruko Documents
Attached to the 1877 document was an attached map showing Ulleungdo and Dokdo Islands. The map is quite small at only about 35cms (14inches) square. The form of Ulleungdo is distorted but it is labeled clearly, Dokdo Island’s shape is very clear. This map casts serious doubt on some Japanese assertions that the Meiji Government was confused about the identity of the islands in the East Sea.

A more likely scenario is the Japanese were confused about their location. Most interestingly the distance from Korea to Ulleungdo is only 50ri. Nautical ri may have been used on this map because this produces only moderate error of distance and places Ulleungdo in about the same incorrect Easterly location of maps of the mid 1800s due to Seibold’s error. It is also possible very old records were sourced for the distances.

Above left: This is the entire 1877 map included in the Shimane Prefecture inquiry. It includes Korea’s East coast, Ulleungdo, Takeshima (Dokdo), and the West coast of the Oki Islands. Above right: The lower right of the map shows Oki Island and Takeshima. The distance from Oki to Takeshima, 80 ri, is marked between the islands.
Another area of contention is the writing on the island next to Ulleungdo. Japanese assert the characters on the island are referring to the “other island” mentioned in the document’s initial inquiry. This is not plausible for a number of reasons. First, as mentioned this map is very small, the islet to Ulleungdo’s West is drawn about 1 centimeter making the characters so tiny they are almost illegible.

Such an insignificant feature on this map would warrant further explanation on the annexed documents in order to clarify more, but this is not the case. Second the neighboring island’s close proximity to Ulleungdo and small size make territorial ownership unworthy of inquiry.

In short, the only significant “other island” mentioned in this document text is Dokdo (松島) see map right.

Above left: A close-up of an 1877 map showing Ulleungdo and Dokdo Island. Above right: A close-up of Takeshima (Dokdo), then called Matsushima. This shows the correct form of the two islands. It also shows Ulleungdo Island is 40 ri away from Takeshima.
Maps of Shimane Prefecture After the 1877 Kobunruko Documents
As mentioned, the whole purpose for the Home Ministry’s Inquiry was to determine if any outlying islands were to be included within the jurisdiction of Shimane Prefecture. If Dokdo Island were part of Shimane Prefecture, surely the islets would have been included within maps printed post 1877. However, no maps of Shimane Prefecture show this to be the case. In reality Japanese maps continued to show the Oki Islands group as Japan’s westermost land. Japanese maps even continued to show tiny Minoshima off of Japan’s West coast, but consistently excluded Korea’s Dokdo Island

Above left: A year after Shimane’s; Inquiry was answered in 1878 niether Ulleungdo nor Dokdo are included on Shimane Prefecture maps. Above right: The boxed area on this modern map of the East Sea shows the location of Shimane Prefecture for locational reference.

Above left: An 1891 Shimane Prefecture map shows Oki Island but fails to included Dokdo Island. Above right: An 1895 Shimane Prefecture Map shows no islands West of Oki. (click maps)

Above left: Printed in 1891 the chart shows Oki as the boundary of Japan. Note tiny Mino Island on the right border. Above left: This colour-coded map of Shimane has Oki Islands (in red at top) as the limits of Japan. (click images)

In the year 1881 Japan mapped all of the country by each prefecture. The map above right is of Shimane Prefecture. Again Oki Island is included but Dokdo and Ulleungdo are not. The map above was a national map included with each prefecture. Thus, it is clear Dokdo was not part of Japan at this time. (click images)
To further support the interpretation that the Kobunruko Documents excluded Dokdo from Japanese territory there are maps and documents. Above on the left are three maps of Shimane prefecture printed after the Minister of Home Affairs’ inquiry was answered. It’s obvious, Shimane Prefecture did not regard Matsushima (Dokdo) as Japanese land.

On the right side above is a Japanese Fisheries Report published in 1887. This document was related to Oki district of Shimane Prefecture and goes into great detail with regard to the islands of Oki. In addition it defines the islands of Oki as the boundary of this region.

Nowhere in this description is Dokdo mentioned as part of Shimane or Oki regions. Here again it is obvious Japan did not consider Dokdo appended to Shimane and thus was not part of Japan.

Japan’s 1877 Kobunruko Documents A Conclusion Based on the Facts

To summarize, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has taken the bold stance that Dokdo is an inherent part of Japan from ancient times. This is proven false by studying her own maps and documents from all eras ranging from the 17th Century to the Meiji Era to just a few years before the Japanese annexed Dokdo during the Russo Japanese War of 1905. Japanese scholars’ assertions that the 1877 Kobunruko Documents did not exclude Dokdo from Shimane Prefecture are simply not true.

The Japanese Inquiry made by Shimane Prefecture and the response by the Home Ministry show that no other islands besides Oki Island and Minoshima were considered part of Japan’s Shimane Prefecture. This is further supported by all maps of Shimane Prefecture prior to 1905.