According to Korean records, Samguk Sagi (1145), the first known reference to the islands, proclaiming them a part of the independent Korean island state of Usan-guk, dates from the Silla Dynasty in 512 AD. Usan-guk became a protectorate of Goryeo in 930 as Silla fell. Usan-guk eventually fell under Jurchen invasion and later was administered directly by the mainland government.
According to Japanese records, the islands, then known as Matsushima, were granted to the Ooya and Murakawa families of Hoki province (modern Tottori) by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 1650s. The common English name, Liancourt Rocks, was given by a French whaling ship in 1849.
After a request by a Japanese fisherman, on February 22, 1905 the islands under the name Takeshima were proclaimed a part of Shimane prefecture in Japan under the doctrine of terra nullius. During World War II, the island was used as a naval base by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Upon Japan's defeat and occupation by the Allies, SCAP Instruction #677 of January 29, 1946 excluded the islands from Japan's administrative authority. However, the instruction specifically stated that it was not an 'ultimate determination' of the islands' fate, and all other islands listed in the document were eventually returned to Japan. The 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, which settled the sovereignty of most other disputed islands, did not mention the islands.
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. Japan protested and suggested arbitration at the International Court of Justice, but the offer was rejected by South Korea. After the incident, South Korea built a lighthouse and helicopter landing pad on the islet, which it has occupied ever since.
The issue of sovereignty over the islands was omitted from the 1965 Basic Relations Treaty, and both sides maintain territorial claims. The United States maintains a policy of non-recognition for claims by either side, although several private memoranda recorded in the Foreign Relations of the United States between 1949 and 1951 appear to side with Japan's view and are occasionally brought up as "proof" of American support.
The dispute has periodically flared up again, typically when South Korea acts to change the islets or their status (for example, building a wharf in 1996 or declaring them a natural monument in 2002), resulting in a reassertion of the territorial claim by Japan. In 2002, two Japanese textbooks questioning Korea's claim to the islets were published, leading to protests in South Korea.
In a survey performed in both countries, the level of interest in Japan in relation to the islets was substantially lower, whereas over 99% of people surveyed in Korea believed that the islets were part of their country. Korea shows the islets in all of their official maps, and includes them in weather forecasts as well.