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Oddities

Widow, 81, Sole Resident Of Disputed Island

A widow, Kim Jin-hee Kim Sin-yeol is the sole permanent resident of the South Korean-administered Dokdo Islands, 

In 1991, Kim Sin-yeol and her husband made the unusual decision to move to the  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 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. 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.”

The disputed islands have long soured tense relations between the two historical adversaries, whose relationship is still colored by imperial Japan’s occupation and colonization of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.

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