Location: In the Japan Sea, about 117 miles east of the Korean coast
Claimed by: South Korea, Japan
The dispute: Known as the Liancourt Rocks to Westerners, this group of volcanic islets is known as Dokdo or "Lonely islands" in Korean and Takeshima, or "Bamboo islands" in Japanese. There are only two permanent residents on the islands -- an elderly Korean fisherman and his wife whose presence is described by Tokyo as an "illegal occupation." Nonetheless, Liancourt's symbolic importance and potentially rich energy deposits have made the islands a flashpoint in Japanese-Korean relations for more than half a century.
The islands were part of Korean territory annexed by Japanese forces during their conquest of the Korean peninsula in 1905. Japan lost control of Korean territory after World War II, and Seoul has stationed Korean Coast Guard troops around the islands since the 1950s as a symbol of ownership. Naval standoffs have been increasingly frequent in recent years, though air and naval forces have stopped short of firing at each other. Japan has so far rejected a 60-year-old proposal by Seoul to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice for resolution.
The nationalist passions the islands provoke can sometimes be extreme. In 2005, when the Japanese prefecture of Shimane declared a "Takeshima Day" holiday, a South Korean mother and son sliced off their fingers in protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.