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  • Dokdo! It can be seen from Ulleungdo

Dokdo! It can be seen from Ulleungdo

Several studies have proven that Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo. These include “Geographical Situation,” in Lee Han-gi, Korean Territory (1969); “The Height and Distance from which Dokdo is Visible,” in Park Seong-yong, Dokdo, Ulleungdo People’s Living Space and Societal Composition (2008); Jeong Tae-man, “A Mathematical Approach to the Dokdo Problem: Why Should Dokdo Be Our Land Geographically and Historically” (2008), and others. These studies are critical of Kawakami Kenzo’s claim, published in 1966, that Dokdo is not visible from Ulleungdo. The fact that Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo has already been well established by photographs, videos, and other evidence released through the media, leaving no need for further review. I would like to share three of my own personal experiences seeing Dokdo from Ulleungdo.
This is my first story. There is a cable car going up to Manghyang Peak across from Yaksu Park in Dodong-ri, Ulleungdo. If you take the cable car up the mountain, there is a Dokdo observation deck at the top. Dokdo can be seen from this spot when the weather is clear. Right behind the observation deck is a military post. It is from this building that I saw Dokdo with my naked eyes on February 1, 1990, when I was a soldier completing my military service. Although my eyesight was not so good, I could see clearly Tanggeun Peak and the whole of Dokdo as if they were forming a camel’s back.
〈FIG 1〉Dokdo as Seen from Saegakdan, in Sadong-ri, Ulleungdo, with Manghyang Peak (on the left) as background (November 22, 2008)
At the time I had this brief thought. “How could the Ulleungdo residents not know about Dokdo when it is so clearly visible? Was not Ulleungdo an inhabited island even before the sixth century? Given the pioneer spirit of the people of the State of Usan, is it not natural to assume that some of them dared to sail to Dokdo?” Although I had little professional knowledge about the island, I had a gut feeling that Dokdo is nobody’s land but ours as soon as I saw it with my naked eyes. I still remember the image of Dokdo that I saw more than two decades ago as if it were a photo taken a few days ago.
Now for my second story: For three days from October 2 to October 4, 2007, I visited Ulleungdo and Dokdo with experts on Dokdo issues. It was on October 3 when we were returning to Ulleungdo from a visit to Dokdo. While watching Dokdo slowing disappearing from the horizon, I turned my gaze to the direction of Ulleungdo thinking that I might be able to see the island from this point in the sea. As expected, I could see it very clearly. That means I could see both islands at certain points in the sea. I thought, “Aha, the people in the old days must have sailed this way using the angles of the two islands as mileposts even without a compass!”
This is the third story. In late March 2009 I received a phone call from a resident of Ulleungdo. It was Choi Hwi-chan, and he was observing Dokdo from his island at the request of the Northeast Asian History Foundation. He said the web camera installed in the Dokdo observatory on Ulleungdo’s Manghyang Peak caught an image of Dokdo. I hurried back to the office and went to the official website of Ulleung County (www.ulleung.go.kr) to see the real-time video of the island. The web camera in the Dokdo observatory showed clearly the image of Dokdo. Sitting in an office of the Northeast Asian History Foundation in Seoul, I could see Dokdo through the computer monitor.
It was not just me who saw Dokdo from Ulleungdo. In the fall of 2007, when I was preparing to do the Dokdo visibility study, I ventured outside and asked farmers tilling the land at the foot of the mountain in Dodong-ri and Sadong-ri in Ulleungdo if they saw Dokdo from there. All of them answered in the affirmative, saying they could see the islet from their backyard if the weather is good, and even while working on the farm. The fact that Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo is not just a current event. During the late nineteenth century when the Joseon court attempted to populate Ulleungdo, as well as in the fifteenth century when The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records was printed, and in the sixth century during the time of the State of Usan, Dokdo was visible from Ulleungdo, just as it is today. That is because for at least the past several millennia there has been no change in the islands’ geographical features. It may be possible to assume that in the past visibility was better than today due to cleaner air.
I once asked Choi Seomyeong, who has studied the modern history of Korea and Japan, and Dokdo, “How are you so sure Dokdo is our territory?” His answer was simple. “You can see it from there!” The fact that anyone can see Dokdo from Ulleungdo gave real credence to our territorial claims to the islet. I could not agree more because I felt the same the moment I saw Dokdo on the way to Ulleungdo. That was when I decided I would find out more about the islet from historical records such as The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records and how Ulleungdo residents perceive the islet in their everyday lives. As part of this effort, I organized the Dokdo visibility study to observe and take photographs of Dokdo.
There were other reasons for organizing the visibility study. I wanted to share the fact that Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo with as many people as possible. Many people come to Ulleungdo every year to see Dokdo from there. Even though Dokdo is a familiar island to the people of Ulleungdo, it is not easy for those coming from the mainland to see Dokdo. Sometimes they must return home without having seen Dokdo due to poor weather. As recorded in The Annals of King Sejong Geographical Records, Dokdo is not always visible and can be seen only on days when the weather is clear. I thought it would be better to provide weather information to those visiting Ulleungdo to see Dokdo, on days when Dokdo is clearly visible from the bigger island.
I first considered offering the service in 2007. In the initial stage of the project, I thought about installing closed-circuit televisions on the side of Ulleungdo where Dokdo is visible or asking the Ulleungdo observation center to provide some data. But installing the televisions would cost much more money than expected and I could not receive cooperation from the weather observation center.
〈FIG 2〉Dokdo as Seen from Seokpo-ri through Jukdo in the Background (August 7, 2008)
To make matters worse, the observation center was located in a point where the view of Dokdo was blocked by Manghyang Peak.
To conduct continuous observations, the only way would be for someone to climb up the peak every day or move the observation center elsewhere.
After much consideration, I came up with the idea of asking Ulleungdo residents to make observations. This involved ordinary people living on the island in making observations while performing their daily work. Even though I decided on the strategy, I had difficulty finding someone who would do the job. Finally, I found Choi Hwi-chan, a member of the Ulleungdo Mountain Hiking Club, who volunteered. As he lived in Kakideung, near Dodong-ri, in Ulleungdo and directly facing Dokdo, he could make observations on the islet all the time. For equipment, he used his own camera and GPS equipment.
The Dokdo visibility study finally commenced in July 2008 and continued until December 2009. In addition to Mr. Choi, a few more Ulleungdo residents volunteered to assist. In the beginning, observation was made from Kakideung Village, but later in 2009 the range of observation was expanded to Seokpo Village in Cheonbu-ri. Still the main observation point was Kakideung Village, where the KBS signal tower is located. The point was at a height of 227-276 meters, slightly lower than that of Manghyang Peak (317 meters).
For 18 months, the visibility study project progressed smoothly and we published a final report on the project in December 2009. Based on the report, we were also able to publish this book that combines the perspectives of history, international law, and meteorology.
The book is divided into an overview, three main chapters, and an appendix. The overview discusses the background and the implications of the 18-month project to observe Dokdo. The first chapter, written by the historian Mun Cheol-yeong examines the historical meaning of the fact that Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo. The book reviews historical testimonies on the fact that Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo and its implications. In the second chapter, Hong Seong-geun discusses the significance of Dokdo’s visibility from Ulleungdo in terms of international law. Based on legal cases and theories on sovereign territorial rights, the author reviews implications of Dokdo's visibility from Ulleungdo from the viewpoint of international law. Finally in the third chapter, the authors Jeon Yeong-sin and Lee Hyo-jeong, with the National Institute of Meteorological Research and the Korea Meteorological Administration, respectively, used a meteorological approach to analyze weather conditions on days when Dokdo was visible from Ulleungdo. Based on the photographs and daily observation records, the authors compared satellite images, land weather data, and observation data gathered from the Ulleungdo observation center on days when Dokdo was visible and days when it was not visible. This analysis shows under what climate conditions Dokdo is most clearly seen from Ulleungdo. The appendix compiled the experiences of Ulleungdo resident Choi Hwi-chan, who was responsible for the 18-month Dokdo visibility study, as he observed Dokdo. And at the end of the book, Mun Cheol-yeong writes about his explorations of Ulleungdo and Dokdo from July 28 to July 31 in the style of a travel journal.
〈FIG 3〉Dokdo as seen with Dodong-ri in the foreground (November 12, 2008)
After the survey, we found that there were several other points from which one can see Dokdo in addition to Kakideung Village. From the southwest corner to the northeast, Ubukdong and Saegakdan Village in Sadong-ri, next to Dodong-ri, as well as Naesujeon in Jeodong-ri and Seokpo Village in Cheonbu-ri are vantage points from which one can view Dokdo. The lowest height from which Dokdo is visible from Ulleungdo is 208 meters. According to testimonies by Ulleungdo residents whom the authors of this book interviewed, even at the height of 133 meters in a house of Jeong Bong-gweon who lives in Ubukdong Village, in Sadong-ri, the islet was visible. According to Park Seong-yong, Dokdo was visible from Haengnam Lighthouse, which is at a height of 108 meters. The highest points from which the surveyors observed Dokdo in the recent observation were the Air Force base located on Maljandeung at a height of 970 meters and Ulleungdo’s highest point at 984 meters at Seongin Peak. From this information, one can reach the conclusion that anyone can see Dokdo from Ulleungdo as long as the view is clear on the side facing Dokdo.
Observers kept daily journals on their observations. After a few months of monitoring, the observers had become so familiar with the pattern that the ratio of their visibility forecast being correct for the next day rose to as high as 70 percent. They could do that based upon the patterns of the day’s afternoon weather and the weather forecast for the next day. The observers said that Dokdo was more visible on spring or fall days with a cold breeze than on summer days with frequent fog. The longest periods in which Dokdo was visible continuously were six days in November 2008 and seven days in September 2009. But on average, the islet was visible for about three to four days a month, with at least one visible day each month. During the day, morning was the best time to see Dokdo. On some days, the islet was not visible for the whole day.
Choi Hwi-chan, the person in charge of the visibility study, said he saw the island on 56 days throughout the 18 months of the observation. Of these, he succeeded in taking photographs of the island on 55 days, while seeing it with his naked eye on the remaining one day but being unable to take a photograph. This indicates that human eyes are better than the camera in some cases. Still one cannot say for certain that the 56 days were the only days Dokdo was visible. As described by one of the observers in an afterword, there were instances in which he missed observing Dokdo but some others reported that they saw the islet. In addition, most observations were made in villages such as Kakideung Village, where the KBS signal tower is located. If observations were made in other areas, such as Seokpo Village and Naesujeon Village, the number of days Dokdo was visible would have been higher. Depending upon the location in Ulleungdo, some observers reported that they saw the islet but some others did not.
Given that the observers did the visibility study while fully engaging in their livelihood, there is the possibility that they missed seeing the islet. If we had installed high-quality closed-circuit TVs capable of monitoring 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the result would have been different. If the length of observation was longer, say, for three or four years, instead of 18 months, we could have proposed more generalized visibility data results. I leave these unfinished tasks to future surveyors.
Even before the Dokdo visibility study was completed, I wanted to share the results with as many people as possible. With the photographs and videos taken between July 2008 and April 2009, we organized the exhibition “Dokdo Viewed from Ulleungdo” while preparing to publish a book of photographs. The exhibition, titled “Dokdo in Our Everyday Life,” was organized by Dokdo specialist Lee Min-hee and exhibition organizer Seong Hyo-gyeong. The first event was held at the National Assembly Building on May 18-19, 2009, followed by a second event at the National Assembly Library from May 20 to May 29. The exhibition received good reviews and later was held in several other venues, such as local educational offices, public libraries, and the Cheonggyecheon Plaza.
The photographs displayed in the exhibition included a variety of images of Dokdo, as well as the four seasons of Ulleungdo. There are photographs of Dokdo taken in front of a farmhouse with a persimmon tree in the background and photographs taken while walking on a dirt road. Other images show a utility pole inside a farmhouse garden in the background. These are literally the images of Dokdo as seen from the everyday life of Ulleungdo residents. The fact that Dokdo is visible is not news to Ulleungdo residents.
From the visibility study, we learned that Dokdo is not a lonely island far from Ulleungdo. Instead it has been intimately intertwined with the lives of Ulleungdo residents for centuries. Dokdo is part of our life and our soul, and is our neighbor that will be with us for eons to come.

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