1876 July - "Argument for the Development of Matsushima"

The period between between 1870 and 1880 was a decade of confusion for the new Meiji government in regard to Takeshima (Ulleungdo) and Matsushima (Liancourt Rocks). The reason for the confusion was partly that Japan had just recently emerged from almost two centuries of isolationism and was in the beginning stages of reassessing her territory, but the main reason for the confusion was a 1789 mapping error of Ulleungdo made by a British ship, which mapped the island much farther northwest than its actual position.

The British called the island Argonaut. Previously, the French had also mapped Ulleungdo at its correct position and called it Dagelet. This resulted in Western maps showing two Ulleungdo's, one real and the other non-existent, as can clearly be seen from the maps of that period. The new Meiji government referred to these inaccurate western maps when making their own maps and often mislabeled the non-existent island of Argonaut as "Takeshima," and Ulleungdo as "Matsushima," which was the name the Japanese had been using for Liancourt Rocks.

In 1876, a Japanese businessman named Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学) proposed to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the government allow him to develop "Matsushima," which he knew to be Japanese territory; however, the island he assumed was Japan's Matsushima was actually Ulleungdo, which the Tokugawa shogunate had previously given to Korea. Mutoh apparently believed that the non-existent island of Argonaut was Korea's Ulleungdo and the real Ulleungdo was Japan's Matsushima.

Mutoh's 1876 proposal to the Meiji government was entitled "Argument for the Development of Matsushima" (松島開拓之議). The document, which is translated below, started a Japanese government investigation to determine exactly where Mutoh's Matsushima was. The investigation continued until 1880, when Japan finally sent a ship to survey the area. The Japanese ship finally determined that Mutoh's Matsushima was actually Ulleungdo.

Here is a translation of Mutoh Heigaku's letter to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Argument for the Development of Matsushima

I humbly say this. I am from the countryside and of humble birth. I am not talented, so I am not a man who considers national affairs or national policy, which makes me unsure of whether I should talk about something I do not know well. I have hesitated to write about this, but since it may help to strengthen our nation, I cannot refrain from talking about it. It involves an island called Matsushima, which is located northwest of our country. I have traveled to Vladivostok three or four times in the past three years, and I have seen the island from a distance whenever I go there. Although it looks to be just a small island, it could be profitable for the Japanese Empire since it is more significant than Ogasawara island in the south. Nevertheless, the island has no residents or arable land. Naturally, foreigners take profits from the island, but I cannot stand this. Foreigners are already freely cutting down trees, and I have heard that they sometimes carry the logs away by ship, so here I submit a petition with a summary.

Matsushima, which is located north of Onshu (Oki island), is an isolated island about five or six ri (20 to 24 km) long from north to south and two to three ri (8 to 12 kilmeters) wide from east to west. [The map to the right shows Ulleungdo labeled as "Matsushima" and the non-existent island of Argonaut labeled as "Takeshima, 大日本四神全図 - 1870年、橋本玉蘭著] No houses can be seen from the sea. Matsushima and Takeshima exist between Japan and Joseon. Takeshima is closer to Joseon, while Matsushima is closer to Japan. On the northwest coast of Matsushima stands a wall of rock stands and there is a precipitous cliff several hundred jo (1 jo equals 3.03 meters) high. No one can get close except flying birds. On the southern coast, the mountains gradually decrease in height sea level. There is a cascade of flat land about 30 to 40 percent of the way down from the mountains, where it would be possible to cultivate fields. There are small inlets at various places along the shoreline, which should be convenient for mooring boats. The island is full of pine trees which make the island look dark green.

People also say there could be a mine on the island. I have already heard from an American named Cobel, who is staying in Vladivostok. He said, “There is an island that belongs to Japan called Matsushima, which Japan has not started developing yet.” If Japan allows some other country to possess an island under the jurisdiction of Japan, it means Japan is giving away Japanese treasure to another country. The island has a mine, huge trees, and there should be large amounts of fish.

If you could lend me the island, I would make a big profit from it each year. I think the fishing would be profitable, but there would be more profit than just from fishery. This man, Mr. Cobel, is living in a huge residence in Vladivostok. He is a famous merchant, and few of the merchants could surpass him, but he is not only engaged in trade; he also gives his undivided attention to mining. He operates a mine that uses many Manchurians. He asserts that there should be a metal mine on Matsushima.

I have seen Matsushima three times or four while traveling back and forth by ship over the past two or three years. Although it is not apparent from the appearance, there could be a mine. The island is full of huge pine woods with some barren hills, which mining specialists say should hold a mine. However, since I haven’t heard of a judgment about a mine, I will not argue more about it. I would like to cut down large trees on the island for export to Vladivostok, where a new harbor has just been opened, or I could sell them in Shimonoseki for profit. If there is a mine, I would start a mining project while also developing fishery and agriculture, which will benefit our empire.

Since Japan has already concluded a treaty with Joseon, we could trade with each other if a harbor is opened somewhere in Hamgyeong Province. Matsushima is an important island located in the main sea route. When our ships or their ships are in trouble in a storm or needed firewood or water, it would be convenient for them to anchor at the island. As the harbor at Vladivostok becomes prosperous, ships from other countries will travel to and from Vladivostok to trade. They will also have to take shelter at the port of this island if they met a storm or need firewood or water. Therefore, we have to open a harbor and build a lighthouse to show that the island is ours. The sailors of other nations would feel relieved and respect the thoughtful policy of our empire. This would be like killing two birds with one stone; that is, treating outsiders with humanity and making profit for ourselves. More show of love and humanity between Japan and Korea would not only benefit the two countries but will also firmly build the respect and friendship for our empire from the people of other countries.

I hope you will open this island, bring in fishermen and farmers, and try to harvest its products. I have taken three or four voyages past the island over the past two or three years, and whenever I look at the island, I always think that a port of the island should be opened. Especially, when I visited Vladivostok in November 1875 (the 8th year of Meiji), we had a storm off the southern coast of the island. We feared we would run aground at Matsushima, and all the passengers on the ship had a hard time. At night, the storm changed to a snowstorm, and we could not see the island. All the passengers worried silently, so I would like to request that a lighthouse be built there as soon as possible.

July 1876
(the 9th year of Meiji)

Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学)
Mutoh Heigaku (武藤平学) also wrote the following, which showed his concern that Korea might try to claim Matsushima:

Some say that if Japan touches Matsushima, Joseon will claim it, but Matsushima is nearer to Japan, and it has belonged to Japan since ancient times. It has also been shown as Japanese territory on Japanese maps. It is Japan’s land. As for Takeshima, a dispute arose in the medieval period of Tokugawa, and it was given to Joseon, but there was no argument about Matsushima, so it clearly belongs to Japan. If Joseon tries to claim it, we should admonish them and use various evidence to prove that it is a Japanese island. It is not only in a critical location for traffic between Japan and Joseon, but it is also in a critical location for travel to countries to the north. Also, it is urgent that a lighthouse be built at good harbors in Japan and Joseon, which will benefit all countries.
The text was found in the third volume of a 3-volume set of documents entitled, "A Study of Historical Evidence on Takeshima" (竹島考証), which was published by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary Kitazawa after the investigation of the islands around Ulleungdo by the warship Amagi in 1880. Here are pictures of the original Japanese documents:


  1. Gerry,

    Could you please correct my bad English Thank you.

  2. Gerry,

    Another interesting documents edited ib 1877:
    公文録 内務省之部 一 明治十年三月
    The Official documents: the Ministry of the Inners (March 1877)


    It included copies of documents in the Genroku era and the conclusive text that "Takeshima and another island" are not related to our country. It is interesting that all the texts were saying Takeshima, not mentioning Matsushima.

    (It has been said that the Ministry of the Inners used the name of Takeshima to indicate Ulleungdo, while the MOFA used the word Matsushima to indicate Ulleungdo.)

    It attached the map of Isotakeshima, which we've seen before. It depicted Isotakeshima (Ulleungdo) and a small islet (Jukdo) and Matsushima and a part of Oki. All the text didn't say Matsushima but the map says Matsushima.

    So naturally, the "another island" doesn't seem to be Matsushima, which was Liancourt rocks in the map.

  3. Pacifist,

    I hope you do not mind, but I combined the two 1876 documents since they were obviously related to each other. In fact, it looks that the second statement by Mutoh came at the end of his proposal to the Meiji government.

    I hope I did not make a mistake by deleting the other post.

  4. Pacifist,

    Please check my corrections to make sure that I edited it correctly.

  5. Gerry,

    It looks perfect, except only a minor mistake that the map is on the right although the text says it is left.

    I thought at first to post the two texts together but I thought it would be too long and gave up to do so. But you could treat them right. Thanks a lot Gerry.

  6. Pacifist,

    Do you a link to the original Watanabe Kuoki document (記錄局長渡辺洪基立案)? I thought we could post it since we already have a translation.

    昔者竹島ノ記事略説多クシテ松島ノ事説論スル者ナシ 而テ今者人松嶋ニ喋々ス 然り而テ此二嶋或ハ一島両名或ハ二嶋也ト諸説紛々朝野其是非ヲ決スル者ヲ聞カス 彼竹島ナル者ハ朝鮮ノ蔚陵島トシ幕府倫安ノ議遂ニ彼ニ委ス 故ニ此所謂松嶋ナル者竹嶋ナレハ彼ニ属シ若竹島以外ニ在ル松島ナレハ 我ニ属セサルヲ得サルモ之ヲ決論スル者無シ然ルニ松嶋ナル者我国ト朝鮮トノ間ニ位シ長崎ヨリ浦潮港ニ至リ馬関其他石州因州伯州壱岐ヨリ彼要地タル 「ラサレフ」港ヘノ道ニ当タルヲ以テ頗ル要地ト為シ連綿此近傍ニ英魯其船艦ヲ出没ス若シ夫我国ノ部分ナランニハ之ニ多少ノ注意無ル可ラス 彼国ナラン歟又保護ヲ加ヘサル可ラス 況ンヤ他国我ニ糺ス 之ニ答フルニ決辞ナキヲ如何セン 然ラハ則無主ノ一島ノミ諸書ニ就テ案スルニ竹嶋洋名アルゴナウト嶋ナル者ハ 全ク烏有ノ者ニシテ其松島デラセ嶋ナル者ハ本来ノ竹嶋即チ?陵島ニシテ我松嶋ナル者ハ洋名ホルネットロックスナルカ如シ 然ルヲ洋客竹嶋ヲ認テ松嶋ト為シ更ニ竹嶋ナル者ヲ想起セシ者ノ如シ而テ此ホルネットロックスノ 我国ニ属スルハ各国ノ地図皆然リ他ノ二嶋ニ至リテハ各国其認ムル所ヲ同フセス 我国論又確拠無シ 是実ニ其地ノ形勢ヲ察シ其所属ノ地ヲ定メ而テ其責ニ任スル所ヲ両国間ニ定メサル可ラサル者タリ因テ先ツ嶋根県ニ照会シ其従来ノ習例ヲ糺シ併セテ船艦ヲ派シテ其地勢ヲ見若シ彼既ニ著手セハ 其宰政ノ模様ヲ実査シ然ル後ニ其方略ヲ定メント要ス 請フ速ニ採リテ議スル者アラン事ヲ伏望ス


    There are several brief descriptions of Takeshima (Ulleungdo) in past records, but there are no discussions of Matsushima. However, these days people are talking a great deal about Matsushima. There are various views. Some say that it is two islands, and some say that it is one island with two names, but I have not heard that it has been decided either way.

    The (mentioned) “Takeshima” is considered to be Chosun’s Ulleungdo, which the Shogunate ended up entrusting to them (Koreans) as a convenient quick fix, without considering future implications. Therefore, if the “Matsushima” being talked about here is Takeshima (Ulleungdo), then it belongs to them. If the Matsushima is not Takeshima, then it must belong to Japan. It is still inconclusive.

    The location of Matsushima (Songdo) is considered important because it is situated between Chosun and Japan. It is on sea routes between Nagasaki and Vladisvostok and between Shimonseiki and Wonsan, so this is a critical location, where English and Russion warships are frequently seen. So we should be very careful. Even if it is part of Chosun, we still have to protect it. As things stand now, we have no answers to give if other countries ask us about the island. This means the island is ownerless.

    Many records say that “Argonaut,” which is the Western name for Takeshima (Ulleungdo), does not exist, and that “Dagelet,” which refers to Matsushima, is actually Takeshima (Ulleungdo). So what we call “Matsushima” (Liancourt Rocks) is called “Hornet Rocks” by Westerners. Foreign maps show Hornet Rocks as Japanese territory, but there is still no agreement among countries concerning the other two islands.

    We do not have the answers either, so the area should be surveyed to determine under whose jurisdiction it belongs. Therefore, we should first contact Shimane Prefecture and investigate their relationship up to now. At the same time, we need to dispatch a ship to do a survey of the area. If Chosun has already started, we need to determine their progress and consider our options. I respectfully urge that this matter be dealt with as soon as possible.

    Watanabe Kuoki, Director of the Bureau of Documents


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