I’m trying to get through my possible discussion topics that are sitting in my index card collection. They are mostly abduction issue related. This one is no different. I hope to show you why Japan has been unhappy with North Korea’s accounting of the abductees.
As the title suggests, the abductions are surrounded by mystery. Initially, the mysterious disappearances of a number of Japanese citizens were seen as runaways, despite the circumstances in which they left: children in nursery, university papers half-done and a forthcoming wedding. There were a number of failed attempts, referred to in an article by Masami Abe in the Sankei Shimbun, 1980, yet they did not cause a stir.
Four events were to shed light on the issue, moving it from non-existent to overwhelming zeitgeist within 20 years. The first case was that of Shin Gwang-su, a North Korean agent who kidnapped Tadaaki Hara, a chef from Miyazaki Prefecture, in 1980. Shin was arrested in South Korea in 1985, he had assumed Hara’s identity.
In 1987, Kim Hyon-hui was arrested after the bombing of Korean Airlines 858. She was travelling on a Japanese passport with another agent (who committed suicide by cyanide) and testified to having being trained in the Japanese language and customs by a kidnapped Japanese woman known as Lee Un-hae. With a photofit provided by Kim, Saitama Prefectural Police identified Lee Un-hae as being Yaeko Taguchi. Taguchi’s family had no idea she had been kidnapped, and had to weather accusations that their daughter was a terrorist, a mindset influenced by the fact that North Korea was the residence of Japanese Red Army members.
By 1988, the police had already concluded that nine of the missing people had been abducted by North Korea and had begun to inform the Diet. Then in 1993, a defector to South Korea spoke about the North’s staffing of its secret military language and culture training programmes, saying that they used abducted Japanese citizens. Despite this and the previous arrests, the Japanese authorities were slow to investigate the other mysterious disappearances, citing a lack of evidence and the fact that having no diplomatic relations with North Korea meant that very little could be done.
It was in 1997 that the issue became prominent. North Korean defector, An Myong-jin, was interviewed by Kenji Ishidaka, TV director at Asahi Broadcasting. An told Ishidaka that one of the Japanese abductees was a teenage girl. The family of teenage abductee Megumi Yokota, kidnapped in Niigata aged 13, were told. Since then, Yokoto has become the poster child of the abduction issue and her parents have become the primary movers of the political campaign.
The mysterious circumstances go beyond the context of their disappearances. After admitting to the abductions in September 2002, North Korea gave an account of each case. I will summarise them below:
- Yutaka Kume, aged 52 (abducted 1977): No knowledge.
- Megumi Yokota, aged 13 (abducted 1977): Married Kim Young-nam, a South Korean abductee, in 1986. Gave birth to a daughter, 1987. Died in 1994, claimed to have committed suicide due to depression. ‘Remains’ given to Japan in 2004, other people’s DNA found in parts of the remains.
- Minoru Tanaka, aged 28 (abducted 1978): No response.
- Yaeko Taguchi, aged 22 (abducted 1978) and Tadaaki Hara, aged 43 (abducted 1980): Married in 1984. Tadaaki died of hepatic cirrhosis in 1986. No supporting evidence provided. Yaeko died in a car accident shortly after. Both bodies were lost due to flooding.
- Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto, both aged 23 (abducted 1978): Married in 1979 and returned to Japan in 2002 followed by their children in 2004.
- Kaoru Hasuike and Yukiko Okudo, aged 20 and 22 respectively (abducted 1978): Married in 1980 and returned to Japan in 2002 followed by their children in 2004.
- Shuichi Ichikawa and Rumiko Masumoto, aged 23 and 24 respectively (abducted 1978): Married in 1979, Shuichi died of a heart attack while drowning in the same year. Rumiko died from heart failure in 1981. No supporting evidence given, their bodies were lost in floods in 1995 after a dam burst.
- Hitomi Soga, aged 19 (abducted 1978): Married US deserter Charles Jenkins. Returned to Japan in 2002, Jenkins and their children joined her in 2004.
- Miyoshi Soga, aged 48 (abducted 1978): Hitomi’s mother. North Korea states she never entered the country.
- Toru Ishioka, aged 22 (abducted 1980) and Keiko Arimoto, aged 23 (abducted 1983): Keiko Arimoto was abducted by Yodo-go, a Japanese terrorist group, with the support of North Korea. They married in 1985. Died together with their child in a coal heater gas poisoning incident in 1988. A month earlier, Ishioka’s family had received a letter (with a Polish postmark) telling them that he, Kaoru Matsuki and Keiko Arimoto were in North Korea. Their bodies were lost in a landslide in 1995.
- Kaoru Matsuki, aged 26 (abducted 1980): Died in a car accident in 1996. His remains had been washed away by flooding but were recovered and placed in a common grave. ‘Remains’ given to Japan in 2002.
- Kyoko Matsumoto, aged 29 (abducted 1977): North Korea denies abducting her.
There were undoubtedly more abductions than those Japan has claimed. The National Police Agency handles the investigation into these cases based on snippets of evidence. Two possible cases to be added in the future include Hiroshi Saito and Noriko Furukawa, based on defectors having met Japanese people using their first names. The Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to N.Korea is looking at hundreds of missing persons spanning from the 1940s to the present day.
Out of the 17 abductions claimed by Japan, North Korea has returned five (all married). It denies abducting four others, leaving eight dead. This could be put down to attrition, but certainly it seems a bit much. I will highlight some of the fishiness surrounding North Korea’s claims on a case by case basis in Part 2.