The Japanese Invasion of Ulleungdo I

Japanese “Entrepreneur” Mutoh Heigaku, (武藤平学) Lobbies to Develop Korea’s Ulleung Island
During the Opening of Ports Era increased exposure of Korea’s territory and the value of Chosun’s natural resources became well-known. As Ulleungdo Island was en route via the Busan-Vladivostok shipping route, Japanese travelers saw the island. A flood of development proposal requests to the Japanese Foreign Ministry came as a result of this awareness. One of these requests by a man named Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学) can be found in Japan’s Investigation of Takeshima (Ulleungdo)

Ulleungdo Island (Matsushima) was being mapped too far West so when referencing some of these maps some Japanese began to refer to Ulleungdo as (Matsushima).This article doesn’t attempt to interpreted these maps. This article presents and translates a request by a private developer to give the reader an understanding of the motivations and ambitions of Japanese nationals in the Ulleungdo region during the Opening of Ports Era.

Above left: An overall map of the Ulleungdo – Dokdo region showing distances to nearest Japanese and Korean landfalls. Above right: A map of Korea’s Ulleungdo Island. Illegal Japanese squatters, fishermen and loggers trespassed on Chosun’s Ulleungdo for centuries.
The above documents are a personal request by a Japanese citizen to develop Ulleungdo Island during Japan’s early expansionist era.
A Translation of a Japanese Civilian’s Petition to Develop Chosun’s Ulleungdo Island
Request by Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学).

“..I was impressed not only when I read a couple of requests and documents but also when I became aware of about the status of an island called Matsushima (Ulleungdo) which is Northwest of Japan. Given the fact that Japan is opening its doors to foreign countries and building a good relationship successfully with each of them a great deal of money has been spent across the board by the government. However we haven’t exported much as of yet.

In addition, we still haven’t cleared up our national debt and this concerns our people very much. The solution to this problem is to make Japan strong and wealthy and to do that the government should be generous enough to its people so they can work hard and produce as much as possible. This will lead to national wealth. It shouldn’t matter what things get done first or what should be prioritized before anything else in the process of achieving this goal. I have therefore been thinking every day and night about what I can do to make even the smallest contribution to our country. Unfortunately I as an average citizen haven’t been able to do that. But after going over the Matsushima development proposal by Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学)

I can see how methodically and carefully everything is planned in terms of the development and the direction it takes afterward. This is indeed a matter of great urgency . One day late could mean another day’s loss. As the saying goes “to be ahead of others-you should get there (start) before anyone else.” Take Ogasawara Island (Bonin Islands) in the South for example. It seems we have lost the chance (or time) to launch a development. Compared to that island, Songdo is of much more importance and this is why we should hurry. I’m afraid the Russians may have started to show their interest in the island, in which case it would be too late to be sorry. So I was hoping that you would make a wise decision and accept (…) decision.

It is presumptuous for us as humble, ordinary citizens to discuss what is believed to be dealt with by the government. However, please understand that it all comes down to patriotism trying to carry out what wise, virtuous scholars teach. So I beg you to determine the feasibility of this proposal…”

(Note:The last page of this document is the step-by-step development plan for Matsushima (Korea’s Ulleung Island).

Phase 1. Development of a small residential area.
Phase 2. Commence Logging.
Phase 3. Decide where to locate port facilities.
Phase 4. Erect a lighthouse.
Phase 5. Export wood of good and other resources.
Phase 6. Land reclamation
Phase 7. Choose a location for a warehouse.
Phase 8. Build housing and relocate people there.
Phase 9. Prepare for fishing and hunting.
Phase 10. Commence agriculture.

Analysis of the Petition to Develop Ulleungdo Island
The above document unveils the true mindset of some Japanese citizens and how they felt justified in taking over adjacent territories to build a wealthier and stronger nation. Whether feigned or not, the writer cites national pride not personal gain as his motivation for expanding Japan’s territory.

The author shows regret over Japan not being ambitious enough as the Americans and British had claimed the Bonin Islands first, and thus feels a sense of urgency to claim Songdo. (Just months after this document Japan would annex (Bonin) Ogasawara Islands. It’s clear Japan wanted to emulate the colonial ambitions of modern Western nations that being America, Britain and Russia.

It is also apparent that Japan was in a race with Russia at this time to control the region and some Japanese were anxious they will lose this opportunity, However, it is worthy to note that nowhere in this document is Korea mentioned despite the fact Chosun was the most proximate nation to the island in question. This leads us to believe Korea wasn’t perceived by Japan as a threat or contender in her own backyard.

This application is a misguided request from a very patriotic citizen trying to promote development through proper government channels. However, we can see in the next chapters that many Japanese would log and fish illegally in the Ulleungdo region. This illegal activity would cause Ulleungdo Island to be overrun with Japanese trespassers. The activities of Japanese poachers on Ulleungdo would later be the false premise for Japan’s annexation of Dokdo about 20 years later.