WHENEVER the English claim the Channel, Frenchmen simply shrug, and go on calling it La Manche. Koreans describe their two seas as Western and Eastern, but if others want to call them the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan, who cares? The Iranians are not so easy going. The gulf that happily separates them from the Arabs is Persian, now and for ever, and a curse on anyone who differs.
The article is about the debate over the "Persian Gulf" and what it should be called, and certainly a naming dispute in the Middle East will certainly attract the attention of the English-speaking world quicker than something in Asia, but it's interesting to note that Koreans certainly do care "if others want to call them the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan" and have gone to some extreme measures to draw attention to its naming and territorial disputes.
A 2008 survey showed that 95% of Koreans believe the body of water should be called the East Sea. Not only in Korean, mind you, where it's called 동해, but in English as well. A KBS article recently noted that 55% of maps in a large collection refer to it as "Sea of Japan" with only 6% calling it "East Sea," and rather than acknowledging precedent, considered it an area for improvement. Around that time it was announced through a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that a new president of the "Society for East Sea" had been elected.
"There is no Sea of Japan in the world" said a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post last year, one of several such ads over the past couple years taken out by singer Kim Jang-hoon and friends.
The Korea Herald wrote up the occassion:
The ad expressed regret that the article had "a small but significant error," saying, "This body of water has been referred to as the East Sea by many nations over the past 2,000 years."
Remarkable, I had no idea people were talking about Asia in English 2,000 years ago. Some Koreans do consider it an "error" for English-speakers to refer to the body of water as "Sea of Japan," and some are quite aggressive on the point, even though they lack English proficiency. In addition to taking out ads in newspapers, some have taken out ads on the side of buses and petitioned US lawmakers to either stop calling it Sea of Japan or to start include "East Sea" in maps.
I blog about the Sea of Japan every now and again---you can read my thoughts on it here, among other places---and consider it arrogant to not only dictate against precedent how a foreign language refers to a body of water, but to suggest as an alternative a name just as exclusive.
The Northeast Asian History Foundation will exhibit historical maps that support Korea's claim that the term "Sea of Japan" should be replaced with "East Sea" or "Sea of Korea."
The East Sea is, in fact, east of Korea. I won't even entertain suggestions of "Sea of Korea." They're very mindful of foreign maps, but don't do a very good job of monitoring their own, lending support to the idea that you shouldn't try to control a language you don't understand.
A poster advertising the 2012 Yeosu Expo in my former school.
Interesting that The Economist mentions the English Channel as well, because that's something commenters mentioned on my site. Here's what commenter Keith had to say last fall:
Each language has its own names for geographic locations and this should be respected by others. For us English speakers the body of water that lies between Korea, Russia, and Japan is called the Sea of Japan. It has always been that way since Commodore Perry opened up Japan (and I assume long before that).
The body of water that lies between Great Britain and France is called the English Channel. The French calls it "La Manche" (The Sleeve). I speak French and when I am in France I don't call it "The English Channel" when speaking French. I call it La Manche. When I speak English, it is called the English Channel, not the Sleeve. I do not upset any French person when I say English Channel when speaking English. They respect that it is part of the English language. Why can't Koreans be civilized and mature and respect others like the French? (snicker)
A high school student picked up on that comment and, incorrectly, tried to dispute it in the JoongAng Daily:
First of all, in his idea that the name depends on what language we use, it seems he thinks that calling the name “Sea of Japan” is something natural in English. However, the name of an area is very important when it is directly related to the possession of a certain territory. Actually, the sea area is shared by Korea, Japan and Russia.
If foreigners don’t know the historical background, they are likely to think Japan possesses the sea as its national territory. Isn’t that a problem?
Furthermore, he used the example of La Manche, which is odd to use for this subject.
Actually, La Manche in French means that the strait looks like a sleeve. In the meaning there is no concept of the possession of the concerned area. So, calling it La Manche or the English Channel doesn’t matter.
However, there is a different problem with the East Sea and the Sea of Japan. The latter implies the ownership of the area.
The "West Sea" is a little different, and indeed people used to point to the use of Yellow Sea in English in Korea as evidence of Korea cowering to China and trying to guilt-trip-slash-bully Japan. "West Sea" is used more frequently now, and that's something I noticed especially last fall during the naval confrontations between North and South Korea, but take a look at this map on Korea.net, the official website of the Republic of Korea:
In an earlier post that I can't find this second I said I'd actually be okay with a movement in Korea to refer to the body of water as "East Sea" in English, while still acknowledging the internationally-recognized name "Sea of Japan." However, though nearly all Koreans believe it should be "East Sea" in English, and many insist on foreign maps printing both names, clearly in Korea it's "East Sea" or nothing, and that's something I can't get behind.