Dokdo is a small island in the East Sea off the coast of Korea, lying at 131°52´East longitude and about 37°14´North latitude. It literally means “solitary island” in Korean due to its rocky, isolated nature. The island is actually in two parts: West Island and East Island, which are connected by an underground rock formation.
The island has been Korean territory for two millennia, with records going back as far as the 4th century showing that fishers from Ulleungdo (a much larger island also in the East Sea) documented the existence of the island and fished around the area. The island is also visible from Ulleungdo on a clear day so it would have been easily spotted and recorded.
Despite the incontestable evidence, in the last few decades Japan has been arguing that Dokdo is Japanese territory. The Japanese government denies the current evidence and claims that all evidence is faked. However, the claims made by Japan are extremely obtuse and bearing on childish. There are many reasons they seek control over Dokdo, such as the rich fishing area around it, the abundant hydrocarbon reserve underneath it and also rearing the ugly head of colonialism.
Almost all historical records and maps up to the 19th century clearly indicate the island as “Korean territory”. For example, in Map of Three Adjoining countries by Hayashi Shihei, a Japanese scholar and cartographer, shows the land in the Far east divided in to colours: yellow for Joseon (Korea) and green for Japan. It is one of the earliest complete maps of Japan. Here, the islands east of Korea, including a large island clearly marked “Ulleungdo” and many surrounding small islands, are all marked yellow and labelled “Korean territories”. There are also records of the Shogunate querying the Tottori clan (who controlled the Shimane prefecture at the time) whether Dokdo and Ulleungdo were Japanese islands, to which the Tottori reply “No, those islands have never been under Japanese rule”. Finally, legal documents by the Japanese National Land Registry in 1877 state that Ulleungdo and Dokdo are not under Japanese rule.
Things became complicated in the early 20th century with the Japanese invasion of Korea. Starting from this period, Japanese maps began marking Dokdo (and Korea and Taiwan and all other colonies) as “Japanese territory” after invading each land. But after their defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to return all land that they stole in the war as ordered by the Treaty of San Francisco. This treaty outlined what the new definition for “Japan” would be by drawing their border again. This treaty states that “Japan is defined to include the four main islands of Japan and the approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands, including the Tsushima Islands and the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands north of 30° North Latitude (excluding Kuchinoshima Island); and excluding (a) Utsuryo (Ulleung) Island, Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) and Kuelpart (Jeju) Island…”.
After the Korean War, the UN set a zone called the Korean Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) to mark the areas to be protected by the air force. The KADIZ also includes Dokdo in its boundaries.
There are hundreds of pieces of evidence that support the rightful ownership of Dokdo as Korean land, yet Japan continues to argue in an attempt to bring back its old habits of colonialism. It is sad to think that after the Colonialism times and the Pacific War, where so many innocent people were sacrificed to fill the greed of a corrupt country, Japan has not learnt a single lesson.
In short, the controversy around Dokdo is essentially the same as someone claiming that your finger belongs to them and arguing that you should go to court to prove that you own it.