Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The "Sea of Japan" and The "Persian Gulf"
HIRAYAMA Kentaro / Former NHK Commentator

September 9, 2002
The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), headquartered in Monaco, is seeking responses from countries on a proposal to delete the name of the "Sea of Japan" from its new guidelines on international nautical charts. This was the result of objections raised by Republic of Korea that the name was "reminiscent of Japanese domination of the region," and should therefore be renamed the "East Sea," which is how they call it. Several years' ago, I was on board a Chinese commercial airliner, and looking at the route map shown on the wide screen, was surprised to find that the "Korean Straits" - which lies between the Korean Peninsula and Japan's Tsushima Island - appeared as the "Republic of Korea Straits." Perhaps that had also been the fruit of the South Korean campaign.

Countries are to send in their votes on the "Sea of Japan" issue to the IHO by November 30. And the Maritime Safety Agency, which deals with such matters on behalf of Japan, is reportedly striking back to win as much support as possible, by emphasizing that the "Sea of Japan" is a name that has been internationally recognized since the 18th century by countries including Russia on the opposite coast. Let me take this opportunity to reflect on another expanse of water whose naming has remained a point of contention for years - the "Persian Gulf."

The name "sinus persicus (Persian Gulf)" appears on the charts of European countries as early as the 16th century, but in the 1970s, Arab countries located along the gulf began insisting that the name be changed to the "Arabian Gulf," since "seven out of eight countries adjacent to the gulf are Arab countries." At the time, this caused a considerable headache for the Japanese media, which was caught between claims made by Iran on the one side and Arab countries on the other. Both sides applied pressure, threatening that "companies that use the term the 'Arabian Gulf' - or conversely the 'Persian Gulf' - would be denied permission for media coverage." European and U.S. media bypassed this troublesome issue by introducing the term "The Gulf" or "Le Golfe," but the naming never quite worked in the Japanese language.

This dilemma was resolved by the Gulf War of 1991. Iraq, which had been the leading advocate of the "Arabian Gulf," was defeated, and U.S. military forces responsible for its defeat nonchalantly reverted to using the "Persian Gulf" in its briefings. Arab countries continue to mention the "Arabian Gulf" on maps intended for its own people, but have since stopped forcing its use on third parties.

Meanwhile, I became curious about what the gulf was called in Turkey, which had long been a rival of Iran on various issues. And found that the answer was simply "Basra Gulf" because it is the sea arrived at by travelling downstream from the inland river port of Basra. The name had been retained even after Turkey lost Basra in World War I, and even after a new country called Iraq was born. I had to give Turkey credit for the wisdom befitting a country with a deep-rooted history.

Let me share yet another experience. During the 1960s, I had the opportunity to board a supply ship of the Argentine Navy for a visit to its observation base in Antarctica. As witnessed in the Faulkland War, Argentina and England had been embroiled in a longstanding dispute over the territorial rights of slices of Antarctica and its neighboring islands. "Faulkland" was "Malvinas" to the Argentineans, to give one of many examples of discrepancies in geographic names. Despite this fact, when I asked an officer on duty on the bridge to show me his nautical chart, I had to laugh. The Argentine Navy was using the "Admiralty Chart" published by the UK Hydrographic Office, renowned for the quality of its ocean cartography. And on the corner, a small piece of paper had been attached – it was a list of comparisons between "names in use (lo que se llaman)" and "names that should be used (lo que debe de llamar se)." The piece of paper, like a lucky charm for warding off evil, seemed to illustrate the decidedly practical wit on the part of the Argentineans.

I wish we could expect a similar sense of humor from the South Koreans. "East Sea" is a name that is already being used by China in the East China Sea, and besides, it lacks the suggestive power to tell us just where on earth it is located.

The writer is former NHK Commentator.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山 健太郎 / 元NHK解説委員

2002年 9月 9日


「sinus persicus」(ペルシャ湾)の名は、16世紀の欧州諸国の海図に既に登場しているが、1970年代、同じ湾を囲むアラブ諸国から「沿岸8か国のうち7か国までがアラブ諸国である」との理由で、湾名を「アラビア湾」に変更すべきだとの主張が強まり、イランとアラブ諸国の主張の板ばさみになった日本のマスメデイアには頭痛のたねになった。「アラビア湾(あるいはペルシャ湾)の表現を使った社には取材を許可しない」といった類の圧力にさらされたからだ。欧米のメディアは“The Gulf”、“Le golfe”という表現を導入して、難関を肩すかししてしまったが、日本語にはうまくなじまなかった。



もう一つの体験を紹介しておこう。1960年代、わたしはアルゼンチン海軍の補給船で、南極にある同国の観測基地を訪れたことがある。フォークランド戦争で我々が見たように、同国とイギリスは、南極の一部やこの界隈の島々の領有権を長年争ってきた。「フォークランド」は、アルゼンチンにとっては「マルビナス」であるように、地理上の呼称も異なるものが多い。ところがである。船橋で当直していた士官に頼んで、使っている海図を見せて貰い、思わず笑い出してしまった。世界の海図作りでは定評のある英国海軍水路部の海図「アドミラルティ・チャート」がそのまま使われており、その片すみに小さな紙片が貼りつけられていた。紙片は、「呼ばれている名称」(lo que se llaman)と、「呼ばれるべき名称」(lo que debe de llamar se)の対照表であった。魔よけ札のようなこの紙片が、彼らのひどく実際的な機転を窺わせているように感じられた。


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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The "Sea of Japan" and The "Persian Gulf"