Virginia House OKs dual-name bill on Sea of Japan

School textbooks to also be required to mention East Sea; Tokyo perturbed


Virginia’s House of Delegates on Thursday passed a bill that requires public school textbooks in the state to refer to the Sea of Japan also as the East Sea, the name pushed by South Korea for the body of water located between Japan’s archipelago and the Korean Peninsula.

The bill is expected to become law shortly because Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has shown his readiness to sign it.

The Japanese government has been frustrated at the Virginia assembly’s attempt to make mandatory the use of both the Sea of Japan and the East Sea, and is concerned that similar moves could spread to other U.S. states. Japan insists the Sea of Japan is the only internationally established name for the sea.

If the legislation takes effect, it would be the first time for the simultaneous use of the two names to be obliged in describing the sea for school textbooks on a statewide basis in the United States.

Virginia’s move came as the number of Korean-Americans in the state is increasing and they are boosting lobbying activities.

Under the bill, passed by a vote of 81 to 15 at a House plenary meeting, using both names will become mandatory for textbooks to be approved by the Virginia Board of Education on July 1 and later.

Virginia’s Senate passed a similar dual-name bill in January.

Because the two bills were sponsored by different assembly members, further procedures will be necessary to finalize them at both chambers. They are expected to become law next week or later.

At the plenary meeting, Mark Keam, a House delegate of Korean descent, said, “All Korean men and women went through suffering, disgrace and humility that other nations didn’t face,” during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

The name of the body of water that reminds them of oppression and invasion needs to be redressed, he added.

In a letter to McAuliffe in December, Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae expressed the nation’s concerns over the law. Sasae met with the Virginia governor late last month to reiterate Japan’s position.

McAuliffe moved to block the legislation after the ambassador’s efforts, but later changed his mind.

Japan also has a dispute with South Korea over the Takeshima islets under the control of the South, which calls them Dokdo.