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Asia-Pacific / Japan

There was an anti-Japan protest in Seoul a week before Independence Day

These angry protesters, and their even angrier signs, are from the South Korean city of Seoul. This should be a celebratory week for them: almost 100 years ago, Korea won its independence from Japan, an event which will be commemorated in tomorrow’s 96th Independence Day celebrations. 

But these Seoulites protested outside the Japanese embassy earlier this week over Japan’s continued claim over a group of islands between the two countries. The ownership of the islands is contested: in Korea, they’re seen as Korean territory and known as the Dokdo islets; the Japanese call them Takeshima and identify them as part of its southern Shimane prefecture.

For the past ten years, Japan has held an annual “Takeshima Day” celebration in Shimane prefecture to promote their claim to the islands. For the past three, the event been attended by a high ranking Japanese official, and this year was no exception: the prime minister sent Yohei Matsumoto, a Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary. 

To Koreans, this was seen as an act of expansionist aggression on Japan’s part (hence the Swastikas on protestors’ signs). In retaliation, Korea’s foreign ministry has announced it will distribute maps and photos of the isalnds to Korean embassies and schools abroad, as well as international schools, to promote their ownership of the islands.

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All this is despite the fact that the islands are absolutely tiny:

The first resident in recent memory (a fisherman) moved in in 1965, and now there are a couple of lighthouse keepers and two civilian residents, plus 37 Korean police on guard there. It’s pretty clear the dispute isn’t over the islands because of their value to either country – but rather because they represent an important boundary between the two countries, one of which ruled the other only a century ago. 

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