A group of state legislators in New Jersey would like to humbly propose that the Sea of Japan no longer be called the Sea of Japan. While it may seem unusual for a country to unilaterally rename a region nowhere near it (much less a part of that country doing so), the idea of New Jersey being granted the authority to rename everything to anything it wants is funny enough that we will go with it. Russia would now be called "Springsteenrulesland," and so on. Fun.
The proposal is related to the idea that many Koreans don't like the name of the sea, given the prominence it gives to Japan, and also related to the fact that the legislators proposing the bill represent many Korean-Americans. Koreans prefer "The East Sea;" an alternative name that Google Maps suggests only secondarily.
NJ.com reports on the proposed bill.
On Monday , the lawmakers introduced a bill that would require the state and all its political subdivisions, "to the extent practicable," to refer to the contested body of water between Korea and Japan as the East Sea.
But soon afterward the sponsors said they planned to amend the measure to include both names in the unlikely event it has to refer to it at all, and to require future textbooks in New Jersey schools to use that terminology as well.
Here's what I will say in defense of this plan: New Jersey actually does abut the
Sea of Japan East Sea, in the sense that all political divisions that we draw on maps on both land and ocean are completely arbitrary manifestations of long standing interpersonal grudges and agreements and also in the sense that the oceans are infinite and uniform and that water from the East Sea can progress without interruption from the eastern coast of Korea to the coast of New Jersey, although to do so would take a very, very long time given that it would have to follow currents across the Pacific and beneath the tip of South America and then back north unless it went around the southern tip of Africa which is probably just a tiny bit shorter. Canals don't count.
But in a more realistic sense, New Jersey insisting that a particular name for a foreign body of water be used in its state will have little practical effect in its educational system and only a negligible effect in international politics. Japan isn't happy about it, calling the plan "extremely regrettable," but I'm pretty confident that at the end of the day Japan is confident enough in its sovereignty to let this slide. New Jersey will keep importing things from Japan, and Japan will keep ... and Japan will just do its thing.
It's not clear what the enforcement mechanism is in the legislation, but if you happen to go to New Jersey and make reference to the Sea of Japan, expect something unpleasant to happen. Because you should expect that every time you go to New Jersey.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.