Tourists rejoice on Dokdo

DOKDO – In the first visit by tourists to the Dokdo islands since the rocky outcroppings were reopened last week to the public, more than 60 South Koreans waved national flags and beamed for photographers after landing yesterday on the disputed territory.

Poor weather and rough seas had prevented tour boats from reaching the islands since Thursday, when the government began allowing travel to Dokdo. The South Korean government has been eager to see people visit the islands since Japan’s Shimane prefecture reignited the territorial dispute recently by advancing a claim to Dokdo.

“When I landed, I got so emotional I almost cried,” said Jang Young-ja, a housewife from North Gyeongsang province. “Dokdo is a lot more beautiful than I have seen on television. It’s absolutely breathtaking.”

As the visitors enjoyed themselves, Japan’s Mainichi newspaper reported yesterday that 52 cultural and sports events scheduled between the two nations have been canceled. Among the lost events were friendly soccer matches between elementary schools, a joint performance featuring each country’s traditional dancing and a field trip by Japanese middle school students to Korea.

In reaction, some opinion leaders in Japan urged that ways be found to cool off the diplomatic conflict. “Japan and Korea need to establish a better understanding of each other through more exchanges,” said Terusuke Terada, a former Japanese ambassador to Korea. “At this juncture, cutting off civic and cultural connections seems very inappropriate.”

The cancellations likely meant nothing to the ebullient tourists on Dokdo yesterday. Although fog prevented them from climbing up to see the barracks of the Coast Guard, the trip impressed the visitors.

“It is a shame we couldn’t be here earlier because of the weather,” said Song Kyung-chan, captain of the passenger boat Sam Bong Ho.

“I hope many more people come visit the island,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful place.”

The weather in the area will pose chronic problems, those who know the area say. It is estimated that tourists will be able to land on Dokdo for only about 70 days a year because of the prevailing conditions. But when boats can reach the islands from nearby Ulleungdo island, Dokdo can accommodate 140 people per day.

by Hong Gweon-sam

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