Japan says historic maps bolster claim to islands controlled by South Korea
Centuries-old maps put on display supposedly bolster Japan's claim to outcrops held by South Korea but risk aggravating rocky relations
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Tokyo claims the two rocky outcrops, approximately 157 kilometres from the Oki Islands, should be listed as the Japanese islands of Takeshima.
Shimane Prefecture officials located the maps, which date from the late Edo period (1603 to 1868), in local collections and copies have been put on display in a prefectural office.
"We are preparing for the annual Takeshima Day event on February 22 and wanted to display these maps in the run-up to that," Hitoshi Tsumori told the South China Morning Post.
"It is the position of the government here that these islands are part of Shimane Prefecture and we just want them to be returned to our control."
He declined to say comment on whether senior government members would attend this year's Takeshima Day events.
Last year, the South Korean government reacted furiously after Aiko Shimajiri, a parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet Office, became the first high-ranking representative of the government to attend the event, which has been staged since 2006. A further 20 politicians also attended, while prefectural governor Zembee Mizoguchi unveiled a petition demanding a solution to the long-running dispute.
The decision to exhibit the maps is the latest tit-for-tat exchange between the two nations over the sovereignty of the islands.
Prefectural authorities are particularly excited about two of the five maps, made in 1790 by an adventurer by the name of Mogami Tokunai who had previously carried out mapping expeditions for the Edo shogunate in the wilderness of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
The two maps created by Mogami show the two islands marked in brown, the same colour that is used for the Oki Islands and the rest of the Japanese archipelago. The islands are not identified by name, however, which could diminish their worth as supporting evidence to Japan's claim to sovereignty over the islands.
Two of the remaining maps confusingly mark the disputed islands as "Matsushima", while the nearby South Korean island of Ulleungdo is listed as "Takeshima". Both are again marked in brown, indicating they are Japanese territories. The final map, dated 1806, similarly identifies both islands as part of Japan.
The timing of the exhibition and the forthcoming Takeshima Day rallies will inevitably put a new strain on ties between South Korea and Japan.
According to the Korean version of the history of the islands, Shimane Prefecture claimed the islands to be part of its territory after Japan's occupation of the peninsula in 1910, and that remained unchanged until Imperial Japan's defeat in the second world war.
And with maps of its own and descriptions of the islands dating back to the Shilla Dynasty of 512, South Korea is standing firm.
In Tokyo, the government brushes aside South Korea's claims and insists that the islands are an inherent part of Japanese territory, based entirely on historical facts and international law.
To further support its claim, Japan has proposed that the dispute be taken to the International Court of Justice and that both sides be given the chance to stake their claims to the islands, but Seoul has so far refused. The Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said: "The occupation of Takeshima by the ROK [South Korea] is an illegal occupation undertaken on absolutely no basis of international law.
"No measure taken by the ROK during its illegal occupation with regard to Takeshima has any legal justification."