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Virginia will acknowledge the East Sea in textbooks

Sea of Japan/East Sea
Sea of Japan/East SeaWikimedia commons.

On Wednesday, according to the Washington Post, the passage of a bill acknowledging the East Sea, also called the Sea of Japan, was almost assured when the Virginia House of Delegates gave presumptive approval to a bill that would note the change in Virginia's textbooks.

The bill is expected to be approved on Thursday, the state senate already having passed it. The bill will then be sent to the desk of Governor Terry McAuliffe, where he is expected to sign it. It the bill is signed, it will make Virginia the first state in the country to identify the waters between Korea and Japan as the East Sea.

The legislation has created intense interest in the state, which has a large Korean population in Northern Virginia, many of them immigrants as well as others with vivid memories of the Japanese invasion of their country in the early 20th century.

McAuliffe had promised the Korean community he would sign legislation acknowledging the East Sea as a name for the Sea of Japan, and he intends to sign the legislation, keeping his promise.

But the legislation may have created some strain in Virginia-Japan relations. The Japanese Ambassador to the United States, Kenichiro Sasae sent a "threatening" letter to the Governor on Dec. 26, 2013, "underscored the illegitimacy of the bill, hinting at a possible withdrawal of Japanese companies which have invested in Virginia should the bill pass."

In his letter, Mr. Kenichiro made three points for keeping the name "Sea of Japan" as the name of the body of water separating Korea and Japan. First, he pointed out the name has been in use since the early 19th century, when Japan was an isolationist empire.

Mr. Kenichiro then wrote, “Second, passage of the bill would mean the Virginia parliament would be politicizing the student body. Students should only learn truths, and politicians should not disrupt their learning”

“Third, my worry is that the bill’s passage would strain Japan-Virginia ties. Japanese enterprises have invested close to $1 billion in Virginia over the past five years, marking the second largest foreign direct investment in the commonwealth. Approximately 250 Japanese corporations are investing in Virginia, with 13,000 jobs created in 2012 alone.” [...] “The bill’s passage will risk undermining Japan-Virginia cooperation and the economic relationship,” wrote the ambassador.

Many lawmakers in Virginia hold with the educational aims of teaching students that sometimes different names are used today, and knowing this is part of the learning process. Del. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Richmond), pointed out there is a dispute over calling the Persian Gulf the Arabian Gulf. “The answer is, it’s not our business,” he said.