The stories of 12 Japanese abducted by North Korea

TOKYO (AP) — A 13-year-old schoolgirl walking home after
badminton practice. A 28-year-old restaurant employee sent by his boss
to Vienna. A young couple on a date, driving to the beach to see the
sunset. They are among at least 17 Japanese — possibly many more than
that — who were abducted by North Korea more than three decades ago.
The
apparent reasons included training agents in Japanese language and
social norms, or stealing identities so the agents could masquerade as
Japanese for espionage and terrorism aimed mainly at South Korea.
North
Korea allowed five to return in 2002, but the fate of the others
remains unclear. In talks with Japan in Beijing on Tuesday, North Korea
is expected to detail plans to investigate what happened to them, a
possible step toward their eventual repatriation to Japan.
The 12
who Japan says have never come back paint a picture of lives
interrupted, as if in mid-sentence, and irrevocably changed. At least
three were students in Europe who may have been lured to North Korea by
Japanese left-wing radicals. Others were bundled into small boats on the
Japanese coast to cross the water to North Korea.
Here are brief
descriptions of the 12 missing people, based on information from the
Japanese government and support groups for the families of the
abductees:
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MISSING: Yutaka Kume, security guard in Tokyo
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 52
HIS
STORY: Disappeared on Sept. 19, 1977, after traveling to Japan’s west
coast to meet an acquaintance who was actually a North Korean spy on a
mission to abduct a single Japanese male aged between 45 and 50.
___
MISSING: Kyoko Matsumoto, office worker
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 29
HER
STORY: Kidnapped on her way to knitting class in western Japan on Oct.
21, 1977. A neighbor spotted her with two men in the pine tree woods
near the coast, about 200 meters (600 feet) from her home. The neighbor
asked what they were doing, and one of the men punched him in the face.
He fell down in pain and when he looked around, the others had
disappeared, leaving behind only a sandal.
___
MISSING: Megumi Yokota, student
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 13
HER
STORY: The symbol of Japan’s abduction victims, Yokota is widely known
for a photo of her in a navy blue school uniform standing under a row of
cherry trees in full bloom. She never came home from badminton practice
on Nov. 15, 1977, one day after giving her now 81-year-old father a
comb on his birthday. A Japanese government website says she was
confined in a dark compartment in a boat for nearly two days, crying
"mother" and scratching the wall until her nails were nearly peeled off.
___
MISSING: Minoru Tanaka, Chinese restaurant employee
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 28
HIS
STORY: Sent by Han Yon Dae, the owner of the restaurant he worked at,
to Vienna in June 1978, Tanaka was never seen again. Han turned out to
be a North Korea agent living in Japan. The case came to light after
another agent told a Japanese magazine in 1996 that he had collaborated
with Han and a third spy in Tanaka’s abduction.
___
MISSING: Yaeko Taguchi, bar hostess
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 22
HER
STORY: Disappeared in Tokyo in June 1978, leaving behind a 3-year-old
son and 1-year-old daughter. Years later, during the trial of North
Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui for the bombing of a Korean Air flight in
1987, Kim said she was trained in Japanese language and culture by a
woman who Japanese authorities believe was Taguchi.
___
MISSING: Shuichi Ichikawa, phone company employee, and Rumiko Masumoto, office worker
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 23 (Ichikawa) and 24 (Masumoto)
THEIR
STORY: Told their families on Aug. 12, 1978, they were driving to
Fukiage Beach, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, to see the sunset.
Two days later, Ichikawa’s car was found near a campground at the beach.
___
MISSING: Miyoshi Soga, homemaker
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 46
HER
STORY: Disappeared with her 19-year-old daughter Hitomi after they went
grocery shopping on Japan’s Sado Island on Aug. 12, 1978. North Korea
later arranged Hitomi’s marriage to Charles Jenkins, an American army
deserter who had crossed from South to North Korea in 1965. Hitomi was
one of the five who returned to Japan in 2002. Jenkins and their two
daughters followed two years later.
___
MISSING: Toru Ishioka and Kaoru Matsuki, college students
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 22 (Ishioka) and 26 (Matsuki)
THEIR
STORY: Both men disappeared while in Madrid in May 1980. North Korea
says Ishioka agreed to come after meeting in Spain with two wives of
Japanese Red Army Faction radicals who had fled to North Korea after
hijacking a Japan Airlines flight in 1970. A letter from Ishioka to his
family in 1988 said he and Matsuki were in North Korea. Ishioka’s
passport was used by North Korean agents, according to police.
___
MISSING: Tadaaki Hara, Chinese restaurant cook
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 43
HIS
STORY: Taken out for drinks and dinner in Osaka by a group of North
Korean spies in June 1980. They then took him by train to a beach resort
in Kyushu, the southern island, and then by boat to North Korea. One of
the spies, Shin Kwang Su, later traveled several times on a passport
under Hara’s name, including to South Korea, according to Japanese
police.
___
MISSING: Keiko Arimoto, college student studying in London
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 23
HER
STORY: Disappeared while traveling in Europe in July 1983. Megumi Yao,
another of the wives of the Japan Airlines hijackers, later told a
Japanese court that she had approached Arimoto in London, and with the
lure of a false job offer, arranged for her to meet one of the hijackers
and a North Korean agent posing as a businessman or diplomat in
Copenhagen. Yao, who had returned to Japan, was testifying at the trial
of another of the wives.
___
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu contributed to this report.