Virginia’s governor is in hot water with Korean American voters and Japan’s trade delegation. At issue: a body of water more than 7,000 miles away. Should Virginia’s school textbooks recognize the “Sea of Japan” or “Sea of Japan/East Sea”? (Washington Post)
- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe faces a dilemma about how Virginia school textbooks will identify the body of water separating the Korean Peninsula from the islands of Japan. Read through the short Washington Post article. Who are the stakeholders—in other words, what groups are trying to influence the governor? What are their positions? Read “This Day in Geographic History: End of First Sino-Japanese War” for some background on the dispute.
- Background: Even though the conflict was called the Sino-Japanese War, it was really all about Korea. As far back as the 18th and 19th centuries, China, Japan, and Russia all vied for influence and control over the Korean Peninsula. As recently as 1945, the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule. The Koreas (the nations of North Korea and South Korea) had to fight hard to establish themselves as independent political entities, not puppets of their bigger neighbors.
- Stakeholder—South Korea: South Korea has traditionally called the disputed body of water the “East Sea.” It has been pressuring international organizations to recognize the body of water as “Sea of Japan/East Sea.”
- Stakeholder—Japan: Japan claims the body of water has been called the “Sea of Japan” for hundreds of years, and there’s no need to change it.
- Take a look at our MapMaker Interactive, and read Wikipedia’s excellent article on the “Sea of Japan naming dispute.” Besides South Korea and Japan, what other countries or organizations are stakeholders in the debate? What are their positions?
- North Korea: North Korea has a coast on the disputed body of water, and prefers the name “East Sea of Korea.”
- Russia: Russia also has a coast on the disputed body of water, and calls it the “Japanese Sea.”
- China: China uses the term “Japan Sea.”
- Europe: France, the United Kingdom, and Germany use “Sea of Japan.”
- United States: The U.S. uses “Sea of Japan.”
- United Nations: The UN has not taken a position, but generally uses “Sea of Japan” in most documents. According to the Japan Times, the UN hopes “that the nations making the arguments can resolve their differences.”
- National Geographic Society: Since 2001, Nat Geo has used both names, “Sea of Japan (East Sea).”
- Google Earth: Google Earth uses both names, with “Sea of Japan” used close to Japan, and “East Sea” used closer to the Koreas.
- Wikipedia: The most-consulted encyclopedia in the world uses “Sea of Japan.”
- Why should Gov. McAuliffe care about the name of a sea 11,265 kilometers (7,000 miles) away, anyway?
- Gov. McAuliffe is an elected official, and must represent his constituents or risk being voted out of office.
- McAuliffe promised to have the body of water re-named “Sea of Japan/East Sea” in Virginia textbooks to appeal to the powerful (100,000+) voting bloc of Korean Americans in Northern Virginia. As one state Senator says, “A lot of people . . . survived [Japanese oppression during World War II]—not only are they alive, but they’re living in Annandale [Virginia].” And they vote.
- McAuliffe must balance his constituents’ concerns with those of the trade delegation from Japan, with which Virginia does millions of dollars in business every year. Reduced trade with Japan could impact jobs and social services in the state.
Read this terrific “real-world geography” profile or this equally terrific Nat Geo News article, both with Nat Geo’s own rock-star geographer, Juan Valdes, to get some ideas about what cartographers and geographers consider when naming and re-naming features.
Thanks to Karen G. for the heads-up on this great current-event connection!