The Japanese government had made its concern known when it was told that the State of Virginia in the United States had passed a bill that requires all historical textbooks to also refer to the body of water between Japan and the Korean Peninsula as the “East Sea” – or Donghae in Korean – where it used to be called only as the Sea of Japan. Now the State of Virginia has signed the bill, and is believed to be the first state to mandate this change, as it was publicly lobbied for by Korean-Americans who say that the term “Sea of Japan” harks back to Japan’s past colonialism and aggression in the Second World War.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the bill on Monday, this according to a posting on the Virginia’s General Assembly website. The bill is expected to take effect on July 1. The government of Japan, through its ambassador in the US, Kenichiro Sasae, made its objections known to the governor in a meeting, saying that the name “Sea of Japan” is the only internationally recognized name for the waters. The Virginia State Senate had passed the bill in January and an overwhelming number of lower house legislators followed suit in February.
The law now requires all textbooks approved by the state board of education to include the term “East Sea” next to “Sea of Japan”. With this battle seemingly won, Korean-American groups are now pushing for similar legislation in the states of New York and New Jersey. Quite interestingly, the US federal government – especially the US military – has supported the use of the term “Sea of Japan” without reference to “East Sea”, to the consternation of the Koreans.