Stamps are a great way to assert territorial aspirations over a contested place. Simply by showing your position on such a (tiny) official seal, the claim is legitimized and affirmed. This can be done in a number of ways, one of which is annexing the territory on the map. This is a story of how stamps can be the cause of a diplomatic riot.
Between Japan and South Korea lies a small group of islands, mostly rocks and islets. In Japan they are called the Takeshima Islands, in Korea they are known as the Dokdo or the Toklet Islands—depending on whether you live in North or South Korea. The rest of the world knows them as the Liancourt Rocks, named after the French whaling ship Le Liancourt that shipwrecked in the area in 1849.
The islands have been disputed between Japan and Korea for centuries. The first ownership of the islands has never been clear since different names were given to the islands and there are ambiguities in early historical maps and records. Both Japan and Korea interpreted these maps to their own benefit.
After the second World War it was decided by the Allied forces that the islands were not to be returned to Japan, who occupied these territories in the war. Japan interpreted the treaties regarding this area differently and claimed the islands based on historical evidence. But since 1954 the islands are administered by South Korea and the South Korean Coast Guard is present.In that same year, South Korea released the first stamps depicting the Liancourt Rocks in order to give their claim more presence. The two smaller nominations of 2 and 5 Hwan show Candlestick Rock and Three Brothers Cave—the small characteristic rocks that stand between the biggest islands—while the larger nomination of 10 Hwan shows the largest of the two islands from the Northwest. The Japanese government protested against these stamps, declaring them non valid. In 2002 the Liancourt Rocks were again featured in a stamp series themed ‘My Hometown’. As a result of the Philakorea 2002 World Stamp Exhibition, thirty-two stamps were published showing various cultural highlights of Korea. One of the stamps shows an aerial photograph of the two largest islands. Japan did not give much attention to this stamp, perhaps because it was embedded in a larger series. But then in January 2004 the South Korean government published the following set. The stamps show the fauna and the flora of the islands. (There is a certain irony to this topic as the Korean Coast Guard and light house staff directly dump their wastewater in the ocean, causing pollution around the islands.) These stamps caused an enormous uproar. The announcement alone was enough for the Japanese government to file an official complaint and this increased the interest among the Korean public in these stamps. As a result, there was a run on the Korean post offices and over 2.2 million stamps were sold out in less than three hours—the Koreans saw it as their patriotic duty to buy the stamps. There was an effort by an unidentified Japanese man who tried to order 100.000 custom designed stamps, worth 10 million yen (around 80.000 euro) with his own photograph of the island, but this was rejected by Japan Post stating that this would blow up the dispute even further.
On October 1, 2004, the Japanese government did issue their own stamps in protest of the Korean issue of Dokdo stamps. They also announced that from 2005 on, February 22 would be Takeshima Day.
Not only did the South Koreans release a stamp.
The North Koreans did as well.
This stamp was also published in 2004.