Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Lawmakers Seeking a Sea Change

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Lawmakers Seeking a Sea Change

Article excerpt

The distance from Hackensack to the Sea of Japan, as the crow flies, is about 6,500 miles, but that mileage did not deter five Bergen County lawmakers this week from wading into a long-running controversy over what to call a body of water half a world away.

The issue -- while out of the ordinary for the state Assembly in Trenton -- is important to Korean-Americans, who make up one of the fast-growing and politically active groups in the county.

The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Assembly members Joseph Lagana, Gordon Johnson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Timothy Eustace and Marlene Caride, would require that the water between Japan and the Korean peninsula also be called "East Sea" for any government purpose.

"This was brought to our attention by the Korean constituents that we have," Johnson said Friday. "After listening to them, I said, 'Oh, OK, it's important to them.' "

Johnson compared the legislation to efforts that county officials have made to remember the "comfort women," Koreans and other nationalities who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army from the 1930s through the end of World War II in 1945.

Japanese officials have objected to comfort women memorials placed first in Palisades Park and later outside the county courthouse in Hackensack. They dispute some of that history.

Similar controversy exists over what to call the body of water that lies between the two countries. Japan has strongly opposed any effort to change the name. According to a pamphlet posted on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the name "Sea of Japan" can be found on world maps dating back as far as one created by an Italian Jesuit priest in the early 17th century.

But to Jason Kim, a former deputy mayor of Palisades Park, the legislation simply tries to set the historical record straight. Kim contends the name "East Sea" was more common until the Japanese occupation of Korea began in the early 1900s. …

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