Japan–Korea Undersea Tunnel

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The proposed routes for the Japan-Korea undersea tunnel

The Japan-Korea Undersea Tunnel (also: Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel, JPN-KOR Tunnel, 한일 해저 터널, and 日韓トンネル) is a proposed tunnel project to connect Japan with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) via an undersea tunnel crossing the Korea Strait utilizing the strait islands of Iki and Tsushima, a straight-line distance of approximately 128 kilometers at its shortest.

In early 2008, the proposal came under renewed discussions by ten senior Japanese lawmakers who established a new committee to pursue it after ongoing discussions with Korea that started approximately 1980.[1][2][3] In early 2009 a study group from both countries agreed to form a committee to create specific construction plans. Committee head Huh Moon-do said the tunnel would help regional economics and would "also play a key role in pursuing bilateral free trade talks" that are currently stalled.[3]

Proposal history

Early origins

File:Tunel japão-coreia.jpg
An early illustration of the Greater East Asia Railroad which also shows the fixed link between Japan and Korea

A very early proposal for the undersea tunnel originated in the late 1930s, and was depicted as part of the Greater East Asia Railroad. In 1938 Japan's Ministry of Communications reportedly decided on a preliminary survey of the sea bottom between Japan and Korea, and during the Second World War the Japanese government actively pursued the project in order to connect it with the Korean Peninsula, and ultimately with the rest of the Asian continent.[4]

In 1939, a Japanese Railway official, Yumoto Noboru, writing in his book on a trans-Eurasian railway which could link Japan to its Axis partner Germany, proposed the construction of an undersea tunnel to connect Japan with Korea via the island of Tsushima.[5][6] Such a land link would help safeguard Japanese communications and shipments to and from Europe, which would be imperilled by a Pacific War. The plan came under serious consideration starting in 1941.[6]

In September of 1940 the Japanese Cabinet issued its overview "Outline of National Spatial Planning" study which outlined its long-term goals for the development of its occupied conquests and spheres of influence in Asia. It further refined its plans with the outbreak of hostilities with the United States, bent on increasing its geopolitical and ethnic ties with mainland Asia through a vastly expanded rail and marine network, with special emphasis on the Korean peninsula land bridge to connect it with its colonies.[6] In order to achieve its objectives, Japan's plans called for "a giant leap forward" in its transportation and communications infrastructures, including bullet trains, so that it could integrate all of its colonial economies and ensure the transport of war materials and other necessary supplies both to and from the home islands.[6]

By August 1942, Japan's South Manchurian Railway Company had created plans for an 8,000 km rail network stretching from Manchukuo to Singapore.[6] Against this backdrop, Japan took its first concrete step for a fixed link to Korea to connect it with its planned vast rail network in Asia, with the construction of several bridges as well as the completion of its 3.6 km Kanmon undersea railway tunnel joining the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Honshu.

Although preliminary work on rail lines, bridges and tunnels within southern Japan was started, work on the project stopped within a few years as the nation's economy and infrastructure deteriorated due to the Second World War. After 1943, with increasing shortages of materials, manpower and even transportation, Japan cancelled its Raumordnung plan for its vast new Asian rail infrastructure, as it turned its full-time attention to defending its home islands from invasion.[6] Its Land Planning organization was discontinued in 1943 and its staff was transferred to the Japanese Home Ministry.[6]

Activities since World War II

The proposal for a fixed link between the two countries has been raised in public discussions numerous times since the end of the Second World War. Leaders of both countries have called for the tunnel's construction on a number of occasions.[5]

Starting in the 1980s a Japanese research group has been engaged in detailed research and exploration of prospective routes for the tunnel. In 1988 the Japanese researchers contracted a Korean company to explore the sea off of Koje to document the region's geological features.[5]

In September of 2000 South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said a review should be performed of the project that could enable all of Japan to be linked to Europe, as "a dream of the future". Kim's comments came during a summit meeting with Japan's then-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.[5] The following month, October 2000, Japan's Prime Minister Mori proposed moving ahead with the project at the Seoul summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), however both Korea and Japan stopped short of commiting it as an official bilateral project.[5]

By early 2002 the South Korean Ministry of Construction and Transportation had commissioned three research institutes to study the project's feasibility. Also in 2002 Japanese experts had estimated that the tunnel would take 15 years and cost US$77 billion to complete.[5] At that approximate time (mid-2002), an easing of relations between North and South Korea gave impetus to the Japan-Korea tunnel project. Both the North and South Korean governments had agreed on an inter-Korean rail line to run from Seoul to Pyongyang and then on to Sinuiju, a border city in the north on the Yalu River, as well as a road running parallel to the railway.[5] From Sinuiju trains could then cross the border and access the Trans-Chinese Railway (TCR), and then Russia's Trans-Siberia Railway (TSR) which would lead on to all of Europe's rail networks.[5]

In September 2002, a five-member Japanese delegation visited South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Hyuk-kyu of Korea's southeastern provincial government to discuss the proposal of an undersea tunnel. The legislative group from Japan was headed by Daizō Nozawa (野沢太三), a future Japanese Cabinet Minister of Justice who was then a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislator in Japan's House of Councillors. Nozawa, then a key figure involved in Japanese civil engineering projects, also toured Korea's Geoje region. This visit marked a starting point in the contemplated tunnel on the South Korean side, officials at the regional government stated.[5][7] The same month saw comments by Alexander Losyukov, Russia's vice foreign minister for Asia-Pacific affairs, raising discussion on the tunnel project and saying that it was "something for the distant future, but feasible".[5]

The tunnel proposal was again brought forward in the recent era by Japan's 91st Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (福田康夫) [8]. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (이명박), inaugurated as president in February 2008, expressed a willingness to consider the project unlike his immediate predecessor Roh Moo-hyun. Former Japanese Defence Minister and long term Diet member Seishiro Etō was quoted after a meeting with other interested lawmakers from various parties: "This is a dream-inspiring project." and "We'd like to promote it as a symbol of peace-building"[9] Japanese legislators also stated that the tunnel could "...one day allow passengers to travel by rail from Tokyo to London".

A noted long-time proponent of the tunnel project has been South Korea's Sun Myung Moon, the Korean founder and leader of the world-wide Unification Church. Moon proposed a "Great Asian Highway" as far back as 1981, and helped establish the International Highway Construction Corporation (IHCC) to build both it and other transportation infrastructures.[10]

Proposed routes

An early post-World War II proposal called the "Korea-Japan Friendship Tunnel System", had tunnels running between Korea and Japan, extending from the Korean port city of Busan to the Japanese city of Fukuoka on Kyūshū, via four islands in the Strait.

Since approximately 1988 three newer routes have been proposed for the project by the Japan-Korea Tunnel Research Institute Society (founded by the Korean Unification Church), with all three routes having the most eastern point terminating at Karatsu, Saga Prefecture (唐津市, 佐賀県), on the Japanese island of Kyūshū.[5] The proposed western termination points are in the Korean port city of Busan (부산광역시) for one of the routes, and the city of Geoje (거제시) for the other two routes, with all three routes running across the Strait islands of Tsushima and Iki.[5] Combined tunnel/island traverses for the three routes range from 209 to 231 kilometers to cross the Korea Strait (both the eastern Tsushima Kaikyō and the western Busan Strait). Those distances would be far longer than the 50.5-kilometre (31.4 mi)[11] undersea Eurotunnel (officially known as the Channel Tunnel) which connects Britain to France.

In early 2009 the joint study group stated that the route would almost certainly begin at Karatsu in Japan's Saga Prefecture, and likely travel to Geoje Island on the Korean shore.[3] If the tunnel travels between Karatsu and Geoje, it would span a length of 209 km, with an undersea distance of 145 km, making it the longest such tunnel in the world.[3]

Potential benefits, costs and possible issues

In the mid-1980s, the tunnel's approximate cost was estimated at US$70 billion,[12] with the Japan-Korea Tunnel Research Institute identifing it as between approximately ¥10 to ¥15 trillion (Japanese Yen) [13]. The proposed tunnel project would provide a savings of about 30 percent in transporting goods between the two countries [14] The tunnel would also offer South Korea a chance to redefine and expand its lagging tourism industry to include other cities and destinations besides Seoul, as the tunnel would serve as a gateway for tourists to travel with ease to and from the peninsula. [15][16]

By 2002 a preliminary Japanese study had reported that the costs of freight transported through the tunnel would be one forth of those related to traditional maritime shipping, and that shipments from Japan to Europe could arrive with two days of travel time as opposed to 20 days for seaborne transport.[5][7]

According to another early observer:

"The economics seem to be there. Given the cost of sending a container around the Horn, and with many container ships now so large they won't fit through [the] Suez, sending the same container by rail can be economical, with the right types of goods [of] things that are too urgent for ships but too expensive for airfreight."[17]

Others have debated the tunnel project. Korean news media outlet Chosunilbo reported in 2007 that construction would cost between ₩60 to ₩100 trillion (Korean Won) and take 15 to 20 years to construct. This is more than five times the cost and three times the construction time of the Eurotunnel between Britain and France.[18] Opponents to the project say that Korea would gain little from such a tunnel, which would principally help Japan expand [its economic and political influence] into the Asian continent. [18]

According to professor Park Jin-hee of the Korea Maritime University, in the period prior to 2007 it cost $665 to ship a 20 foot (6.1 m) container from Osaka to Busan.[19] With an undersea tunnel, the estimated price would drop to $472, an almost 30% savings.[18] Further economic benefits would be gained if North Korea would permit trains to cross through it into China, from where trains could then access the Trans-Chinese Railway to gain the Trans-Siberian Railway to Europe.

However negative views of the tunnel's profitability also emerged the same year.[12] Japanese Studies Professor Shin Jang-churl, of Seoul's Soongsil University, stated that both countries' political proposals were "....nothing but [empty] diplomatic rhetoric."[12] Key issues for the tunnel would be its enormous construction cost combined with possible low profitability, similar to the Eurotunnel's financial situation since it opened in 1994.[12]

In early 2009, the new joint study group identified that the construction costs alone would be ¥10 trillion by a Japanese estimate, and almost ₩200 trillion by a Korean estimate.[3] A Japanese report also showed the tunnel would not be economically feasible, which was similar to another study conducted by the Koreans.[3]

However the group also pointed out that the tunnel is economically feasible if decision makers also included the effects of job creation and the project's ability to revive the construction industry.[3] Korea would see a ₩13 trillion addition to its construction industry, and Japan's increase would be ₩18 trillion. With industrial effects, the group forecast that Korea would see economic benefits worth ₩54 trillion and ₩88 trillion for Japan.[3]

Comparison to the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel

In an April 2009 editorial, former Justice Ministers Daizō Nozawa of Japan, and Kim Ki Chun of South Korea, remarked on some of the similarities of the proposed Japan-Korea tunnel to the world's present longest undersea tunnel. The Eurotunnel (officially named the 'Channel Tunnel' ) was created after the Treaty of Canterbury was signed by the United Kingdom and France in 1986, and marked its 15th in-service anniversary in May 2009, after connecting Great Britain to Europe.[20] The Japan-Korea tunnel faces not only technical issues, but similarly the mistrust of two former adversaries created by centuries of conflict. However, the U.K. and France were able to bridge their political divide and link themselves together, setting the stage for a sea-change in their relationship.[20][21]

The addition of the fixed link to Europe, once believed to be "impossible to build and financially impractical", resulted in numerous positive changes to both the U.K. and Europe, according to Chun and Nowzawa.[20] Among the most significant was the loss of the "island mentality", a key psychological barrier that previously isolated many Britons from Europe.

A veritable new industry subsequently sprang up to serve Britons wanting to buy properties in several European countries. Hundreds of thousands of French and other Europeans now regularly live and work in the Isles, helped in part by reasonably priced Eurostar fares and service that is completely immune to bad weather and heavy seas.[20] The Eurotunnel is seen as an important asset to the entire European Union's infrastructure, placing Brussels less than two hours from downtown London, with central Paris taking only 25 minutes longer to reach.[22] It has "greatly facilitated integration of the region."[20]

That fixed link allows hundreds of thousands of citizens to move and work more freely in each others countries, and has also allowed for greater economic growth.[20][21] In contrast however, Northeast Asia, also one of the world's fastest growing economies, experiences a lower degree of internal political cohesion partly due to its poorer intraregional transportation links.[23]

Politically and economically, both tunnels could be viewed as symbols of regional integration, with former French President François Mitterrand once stating: "The Channel Tunnel…. is nothing less than a revolution...."[23]

Nowzawa and Chun further remarked that the Eurotunnel was instrumental in redirecting how the peoples of different cultures and nationalities view each other, something they hope that the Japan-Korea fixed link will also accomplish in order to reverse centuries of conflict and mistrust between their two countries.[20] As with the Eurotunnel, the Japan-Korea tunnel would be regarded as a prime political symbol, and proof of intraregional cooperation.[23]

For the Japan-Korea fixed link project to proceed, it must also, after decades of informal talks and private research, similarly move into formal bilateral discussions and agreements.[20]

Associated difficulties


Both the Japanese and the South Korean publics have reservations toward closer links with each other due to various reasons, which political leaders are sensitive to. Among the reasons: some South Koreans still have strong memories of the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910-1945.[12] Urban Planning Professor Hur Jae-wan of Seoul's Chung-Ang University said that for the tunnel to become politically viable it would be essential for the project to gain significant support from both country's citizenry, because:

"The Japanese hold a xenophobic nationalism that they are different from other Asian countries. The South Koreans, in contrast, believe they were victimized by the Japanese and harbor suspicion about Japan's expansionism and think the tunnel might lead the South Korean economy and culture to be absorbed into Japan's."[12]

In the mid-2000s, disputes over history, territory and policies aimed at North Korea had brought the two country's relations to a low point, and deepened their mistrust in each other. Professor Shin Jang-churl of Soongsil University in Seoul advised that it was essential for consensus to be reached by both Japanese and South Korean nationals on the relevant issues that divided them.[12]


South Korean experts have advised caution in proceeding with the project due to worries of possible Japanese economic and political hegemony in Asia, made possible in part by the logistical advantages the tunnel project would provide.[5]

Another contentious issue may the territorial dispute over the Liancourt Rocks islets located to the northeast of the strait, which are claimed by Tokyo but have been administrated by the South Korean government since 1952, and are currently occupied by their coast guard, police and lighthouse personnel.[8] South Korea’s Coast Guard personnel first occupied the islets in 1953, with more permanent facilities built by South Korea over the next several years.[24][25]


One eventual economic issue that will be faced by rail companies utilizing the tunnel is that of different rail gauges, if the rail system is eventually connected to the Trans-Siberian Railway via the People's Republic of China. Russia uses 1520 mm, Korea 1435 mm and Japan 1067 mm. Japan uses standard gauge (1435 mm) only on the Shinkansen lines.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Japan-Korea Undersea Tunnel May Join Old Rivals, Inventorspot.com, 2008-02-19, retrieved: March 17, 2008
  2. ^ Japanese Lawmakers Eye Underwater Train to South Korea, Agence France-Presse, 2008-02-15, retrieved March 17, 2008
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Korea-Japan Tunnel Finally in Sight, English.Chosun.com, 21 February 2009, retrieved 2009-04-03;
  4. ^ Japan Planning Tunnel 80 Miles Long to Korea, New York Times, pg.11, December 21, 1938 (subscription);
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Anderson, Damian J. (2003) Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel Project Spotlighted Anew, retrieved online 2009-04-21 at KoreaTimes National, January 17, 2003;
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Charles K. Armstrong & Samuel S. Kim & Gilbert Rozman & Stephen Kotkin (2005) Korea at the Center: Dynamics of Regionalism in Northeast Asia, M.E. Sharpe, 2005, pg.103-105, ISBN 0765616564, ISBN 9780765616562;
  7. ^ a b Project of S. Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel Grabs New Spotlight, AsiaPulse News, 2 October 2002, accessed online via Goliath online 2009-04-21;
  8. ^ a b Japan proposes 'peace' tunnel to South Korea, Guardian Online, 2008-02-15, retrieved March 18, 2008
  9. ^ Japan Lawmakers Want "Peace Tunnel" to South Korea, Reuters, Feb 15, 2008
  10. ^ The Proposal for Constructing an "International Highway", Terug website, retrieved 2009-04-03;
  11. ^ Institute of Civil Engineers p. 95
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel Project Hits Snag on Anti-Tokyo Sentiment, Low Profitability, YON - Yonhap News Agency of Korea, 22 February 2007, retrieved 2009-04-22 via AsiaPulse via AccessMyLibrary.com (subscription);
  13. ^ Japan-Korea Tunnel Research Institute website, Jan 2009
  14. ^ Dig It!, Japundit.com, 2007-05-12, retrieved March 17, 2008;
  15. ^ Korea-Japan Tunnel, Koreatimes.co.kr, 2009-03-19;
  16. ^ Hogan, George (2009) Korea-Japan Tunnel, retrieved 2009-04-22 from The Korea Times online, March 12, 2009 (article provides commentary on the potential benefits to the tourism industry)
  17. ^ Stonehill, Bill (2000) Eyes on Japan: The Iron 'Silk Road', updated 2008-12-31, retrieved 2009-04-03;
  18. ^ a b c Experts Argue Over Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel, Digital Chosun Ilbo, English Edition, May 11, 2007;
  19. ^ Experts Argue Over Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel (revised), Digital Chosun Ilbo, English Edition, May 11, 2007. Note: When originally issued, this article erroneously stated a container dimension of "20 cubic feet". The Digital Chosun Ilbo's editorial staff subsequently revised the description to read "a container (20 feet)", meaning a "20 foot length container". The revised article was posted online between April 10-22, 2009, however the article's date was unrevised and the revision was not further noted;
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Nozawa, Daizo & Chun, Kim Ki, "Tunnel to link Korea and Japan? Undersea Project Promises Improved Contact, Stabler Relations", Washington Times, April 13, 2009;
  21. ^ a b Vandore, Emma & Katz, Gregory (2009) Channel Tunnel marks 15th anniversary - in black, Associated Press, 10 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-11
  22. ^ Jolly, David (2009) Eurotunnel Pays a Dividend, Its First, New York Times, March 4, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-11;
  23. ^ a b c Hur, J. (1997) "The Japan-Korea Underwater Tunnel Project: Its differences from and Similarities to the Channel Tunnel", Regional Studies, June 1997, Vol.31, No.4, pp.431-434;
  24. ^ Wikipedia article on Liancourt Rocks previously quoted: "On January 12, 1953, the Government of South Korea ordered the army to enforce their claim on the island, and in the same year on April 20, South Korean volunteer coast guards set up camp on the island. On June 27, 1953, two Japanese coast guard vessels landed on the East Islet, drove off the Korean guards and set up a territorial marker, but did not attempt permanent occupation. The Koreans soon returned and several armed skirmishes followed, leading to the sinking of a Japanese ship by Korean mortar fire on April 21, 1954."
  25. ^ "Liancourt Rocks / Takeshima / Dokdo / Tokto", Globalsecurity

See also

External links

Further reading

Project name translations

Note that the naming convention used for this article is the nominal placement of the project partners by order of the size of their economies (e.g.: Japan-Korea). Notwithstanding that convention, each name translation can be used in reverse order (e.g.: Korea-Japan). The three proposed side-by-side tunnels, as contemplated in 2007, both start and stop at each country.

Translations for reference and research include: Japan-Korea Sea Bottom Tunnel, Underwater Train Tunnel, Nikkan Tonneru, Túnel Japón-Corea, Japan-Koreatunnel, Japan-Korea Tunnelen, Tunnel du Japon-Corée, Giappone-Corea Del Tunnel Sottomarino, Япония-Корея подводный тоннель, Japon-Corée Tunnel Sous-Marin.

The project's various name modifiers '...Undersea', '...Submarine', '...Sea Bottom', etc... have also occasionally been substituted with 'Peace', 'Friendship' and 'Rail', as in '....Peace Tunnel', '....Rail Tunnel', etc....