The sun it rises ... over the East Sea

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The sun it rises ... over the East Sea

The name we give something often defines the thing itself. Before we call it by the right name, it may be nothing more than a wave.

One example is the North Sea, famous for its oil and gas resources and fisheries. Once called the German Sea, today it is the East Sea to the United Kingdom and the South Sea to Norway and Sweden. In Denmark, it is the West Sea.

At first, the sea had no name. Greek astronomer Ptolemy was the one who came up with the name “German.” He named the sea Oceanus Germanicus in his “Geography.” In medieval times, it was also called the Middle Sea as it is surrounded by many countries. The Dutch, which dominated maritime trade then, called it Noord Zee, or North Sea, on their marine charts and the name came into wide use when it appeared on a map used by the Hanseatic League in medieval Germany.

Meanwhile, the name of the port city of Beihai on the southern tip of China means “north of the sea.” According to the International Hydrographic Organization, the sea to its south is the Gulf of Tonkin. The Vietnamese, however, call it Vinh Bac Bo and the Chinese refer to it Beibu Wan, both meaning “Northern Bay.” It makes sense that the Vietnamese call it the Northern Bay but why would China?

There is a similar conundrum with the East Sea between Korea and Japan. Long ago, it was referred to as the Sea of Korea. A Portuguese map published in 1615 refers to it as Mar Coria. A map of Asia published in Japan in 1794 calls it the Joseon Sea. In 1650, French missionaries called it the East Sea, as Koreans did. The name “Sea of Japan” appeared during the Russo-Japanese War. Unfortunately, the IHO was launched in 1921, when Korea was ruled by Japan.

One thing to be considered in naming geographical sites is that the four cardinal directions of north, south, east and west are different depending on the position of the observer. From the perspective of modern philosophical and geographical standards, the Korean Peninsula is in the Far East. Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, inspired by the sun rising in the East, called Korea “The Lamp of the East” in his poem. Therefore, “East Sea” is also a suitable name from a geographical standpoint.

Why does the United States want to call it the Sea of Japan, a vestige of imperialism? When we call it by its proper name, it becomes the East Sea where the sun rises. The name, East Sea, is a promise to Koreans and everyone in the world that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

The writer is a special director of jTBC.

By Park Jong-kwon

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