Widow, 81, sole resident of island claimed by both South Korea and Japan
Seoul, South Korea, CNN – In 1991, Kim Sin-yeol and her husband made the unusual decision to move to a lonely outcrop of islands at the heart of a long-standing territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea.
Currently administered by Seoul, the Dokdo Islands are located in the East Sea, according to South Korea.
Japan, however, calls the islands Takeshima and refers to their surrounding waters as the Sea of Japan.
For years, the couple were the tiny islands’ only permanent residents, although other people, such as policeman, lighthouse operators and tourists, would periodically come and go.
Bad weather could cut the islands off from the outside world for weeks, but their surrounding waters were a rich fishing ground.
“Being there, her mind is at ease.”
Kim, who is originally from Jeju Island, worked as a “haenyeo” — a traditional, female freediver — until 2017 when poor health caused her to quit.
But since the death of her husband, Kim Sung-do, last October, the 81-year-old has been the only permanent resident on the volcanic islands.
Her loss has not inspired any plans to move.
“She said living on Dokdo is relaxing,” said her son-in-law, Kim Kyung-chul. “Being there, her mind is at ease.”
As Kim’s health falters, however, her daughter and son-in-law are planning to register as permanent residents of the isolated islands and live with the octogenarian.
Using a business license she inherited from her father, the younger Kim plans to sell stamps, soaps and seafood to tourists who make the four-hour ferry ride from the mainland. Read more.
Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo Islands)
The Liancourt Rocks are a group of small islets in the Sea of Japan. While South Korea controls the islets, its sovereignty over them is contested by Japan.
South Korea classifies the islets as Dokdo-ri, Ulleung-eup, Ulleung County, North Gyeongsang Province, and calls them Dokdo — “solitary island[s]”).
Japan classifies the islands as part of Okinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture, and calls them Takeshima.
The Franco-English name of the islets derives from Le Liancourt, the name of a French whaling ship that came close to being wrecked on the rocks in 1849.
The Liancourt Rocks consist of two main islets and 35 smaller rocks; the total surface area of the islets is 46 acres, with the highest elevation of 553 ft found at an unnamed location on the West Islet. The Liancourt Rocks lie in rich fishing grounds that may contain large deposits of natural gas.[
The Liancourt Rocks are situated at a distance of 114 nautical miles from the main island of Japan (Honshu) and 117 nautical miles from mainland Korea.
Due to their location and small size, the Liancourt Rocks can have harsh weather. If the swell is greater than 3 to 5 metres, then landing is not possible so on average ferries can only dock about once in every forty days.