East of South Korea and north of Japan are two volcanic islets flanked by a spray of smaller rocks. The island cluster spans about 46 acres, and except for a few dormitories that house a rotating battalion of approximately 40 police officers, a helicopter pad, a house, a small library, a cafeteria, and a mailbox declaring its terms of service (mail pick up and delivery every two months), there is no development. Aside from the police stationed on the island for two months at a time, the islands boast a population of two.
But the islands’ unspoiled tranquility belies a fractious dispute over their ownership. South Korea and Japan both claim them, though they use different names for the islands and for the body of water that surrounds them. South Korea calls the islets Dokdo, or “solitary islands,” and says they are in the East Sea. Japan says they are Takeshima, or “bamboo islands,” in the Sea of Japan.