The Korean Peninsula extends for about 1,000 kilometers southward from the northeast part of the Asian continental landmass. The Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu are located some 200 kilometers to the southeast across the Korea Strait; the Shandong Peninsula of China lies 190 kilometers to the west. The west coast of the peninsula is bordered by the Korea Bay to the north and the Yellow Sea to the south; the east coast is bordered by the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the East Sea). The 8,640- kilometer coastline is highly indented. Some 3,579 islands lie adjacent to the peninsula. Most of them are found along the south and west coasts.
The northern land border of the Korean Peninsula is formed by the Yalu and Tumen rivers, which separate Korea from the provinces of Jilin and Liaoning in China. The original border between the two Korean states was the thirty-eighth parallel of atitude. After the Korean War, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) formed the boundary between the two. The DMZ is a heavily guarded, 4,000-meter-wide strip of land that runs along the line of cease-fire, the Demarcation Line, from the east to the west coasts for a distance of 241 kilometers (238 kilometers of that line form the land boundary with North Korea).
The total land area of the peninsula, including the islands, is 220,847 square kilometers. Some 44.6 percent (98,477 square kilometers) of this total, excluding the area within the DMZ, constitutes the territory of the Republic of Korea. The combined territories of North Korea and South Korea are about the same size as the state of Minnesota. South Korea alone is about the size of Portugal or Hungary, and is slightly larger than the state of Indiana.
The largest island, Cheju, lies off the southwest corner of the peninsula and has a land area of 1,825 square kilometers. Other important islands include Ullung in the Sea of Japan and Kanghwa Island at the mouth of the Han River. Although the eastern coastline of South Korea is generally unindented, the southern and western coasts are jagged and irregular. The difference is caused by the fact that the eastern coast is gradually rising, while the southern and western coasts are subsiding.
Lacking formidable land or sea barriers along its borders and occupying a central position among East Asian nations, the Korean Peninsula has served as a cultural bridge between the mainland and the Japanese archipelago. Korea contributed greatly to the development of Japan by transmitting both Indian Buddhist and Chinese Confucian culture, art, and religion. At the same time, Korea's exposed geographical position left it vulnerable to invasion by its stronger neighbors. When, in the late nineteenth century, British statesman Lord George Curzon described Korea as a "sort of political Tom Tiddler's ground between China, Russia, and Japan," he was describing a situation that had prevailed for several millennia, as would be tragically apparent during the twentieth century.
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