Japan, North Korea and
the Abduction Issue
By Eric Johnston
The Japan Times
Kyoto Stanford Center
``All Politics is Local’’
September 2002 Summit: Kim admits to Koizumi
that North Korea kidnapped Japanese nationals
during the 1970s and 1980s, and that five are
October 2002: The five abductees are released
from North Korea and return to Japan after
nearly a quarter century.
May 2004: Koizumi travels to North Korea and
returns with the children of the five abductees,
and Charles Robert Jenkins, an American army
sergeant who deserted to North Korea in 1965.
Pre-September 2002 Official Views
“International problems are
best left the experts at the
Foreign Ministry, which is
full of hard-working, honest
“The abduction issue was
based more on emotion than
“There were lots of problems
between Japan and North
Korea far more serious than
the abduction issue.
Shouldn’t we be concentrating
“Even if North Korea did
kidnap Japanese, who, besides
the families, cares?”
Post September 2002 Public Views
North Korea is evil.
The Japanese people
were betrayed all these
years by North Korea.
The Japanese people
were betrayed all of
these years by their own
the Foreign Ministry.
The Japanese people
were betrayed all of
these years by a media
that mocked the victims’
Japan, having been
victimized by North
Korea, should make
every effort to find out
what happened to the
Chronology of Main Events
, 1980 – small story on the front page of the
Sankei Shimbun about three young couples who
disappeared in the summer of 1978 from the beaches of
Fukui, Niigata, and Kagoshima Prefectures. Photos of four
the six –Yasushi Chimura, Fukie Hamamoto, Rumiko
Matsumoto, and Shuichi Ichikawa are shown.
Story also mentions an attempted kidnapping in
neighboring Toyama Prefecture. Police believe that there is
a high probability that the Toyama kidnapping attempt was
carried out by ``foreign agents’’, based on the evidence
recovered, and wonder if there is a connection with the
other six disappearances.
Story is almost immediately dismissed as sheer
Why Did Police Speculate That Foreign
Agents Might Be Involved?
The couples had no obvious reason to disappear. No
debts, no broken relationships, not in trouble with the
For years, fishermen and villagers in Fukui and Niigata
had reported to local police that strange ships and
strange men were sometimes seen near the beaches.
North Korean military uniforms were sometimes found
washed up on shore. There was a belief these strange
men were North Korean spies infiltrating Japan.
The Evidence Mounts
A North Korean agent carrying a fake passport
with the name ``Tadaaki Hara’’ is arrested in
Japan. The real Hara had disappeared from a
beach in Miyazaki Prefecture, in Kyushu, in
A North Korean agent named Kim Hyong-Hee
is arrested for blowing up a Korean Airlines jet
in 1987. She is caught with a Japanese passport,
and tells South Korean police that she learned
Japanese in North Korea from a Japanese
national whose description matches that of
Yaeko Taguchi, who disappeared from the same
beach as Tadaaki Hara, but in 1978.
``There is sufficient reason to believe
that the couples who disappeared
in 1978 have been kidnapped to
Senior ruling party Diet member Seiroku Kajiyama, head of a
government committee investigating the possibility of abductions to
In Sapporo, the family of Jun Ishioka, who disappeared
from Madrid in 1980, receives a letter from Jun that was
mailed from Poland after he slipped it to a Polish visitor
in Pyongnang. In the letter, Jun says he is now living in
North Korea with other Japanese, including Keiko
Arimoto from Kobe, who went missing in Europe in
The Arimoto family is contacted by the Ishioka family
but the letter is not made public out of fears for Jun’s
The Official Reaction is?
``Not Enough Proof’’
``Maybe they went
BUT BEHIND THE SCENES. .
Sept. 1990: Liberal Democratic Party
politicians with ties to pro-North Korean
groups in Japan (Chosen Soren, etc.) and
Socialist Party politicians make an
unprecedented visit to North Korea.
Why? Gold bars and Sand.
Immediately following the September 1990
trip, allegations are made that the Japanese
politicians received 5 billion yen in payoffs
from Chosen Soren.
In June 1993, police would raid the home of
the senior LDP official who led the
delegation and find 600 million yen in gold
bars hidden underneath his floor. It is said
the gold came from North Korea.
AND WHAT DID JAPAN WANT
IN RETURN FROM NORTH
During the trip to North Korea in September 1990,
while the senior Japanese politicians were wined
and dined by Kim Il Song and Kim Jong Il, a
helicopter full of Japanese and North Koreans flew
over the surrounding countryside, where the
Japanese admired. . .the riverbed sand.
Japan was then in the middle of it’s bubble
economy and building new roads, bridges, dams,
and airports. But Japanese sand had a high percent
of salt, very bad for making concrete. North
Korean riverband sand has a much lower salt
September 1990 trip failed to lead to much of
anything, let alone sand for Japan.
MAY 1993: North Korea fires a medium-range
missile over Japan. Tensions rise.
SPRING 1994, talk of war with North Korea
JULY 1994, Kim Il Song dies. East Asia could
become very unstable. Bigger worries than
BACK TO PYONGANG: A second
delegation of Japanese officials heads to
North Korea to talk about normalization of
relations. By now, food shortages are acute.
North Korea: ``Rice aid for normalization
By the end of 1995, Japan has agreed to send
500,000 tons of surplus rice.
Meanwhile. . .
1994: An Myon Jin, a North Korean spy, defects to
MAY 1995: An tells a Japanese TV producer that
Japanese nationals were working as language
teachers at his spy school.
An is shown a photo of Shuichi Ichikawa, one of
six Japanese who, back in 1980, the Sankei
newspaper hinted were kidnapped. He says he saw
Ichikawa in North Korea.
Then, he reveals that he saw somebody else.
The Strange Case of Megumi
early evening, 13 year old
Megumi Yokota disappears
from Niigata. No witnesses,
but neighbors report a
strange car seen driving
around that afternoon. Just
after she was last seen, a
woman’s scream is heard
on the beach, and an
Several days later, National
Police Agency says it
intercepted coded radio
messages from a North
Korean vessel in
international waters near
Niigata. The messages had
been sent just before and
on November 15th
. No trace
of Megumi is ever found.
The Strange Case of Megumi
YokotaLATE 1980s: An, while a
student at the Kim Jong Il
Academy, North Korea’s
top spy school, attends an
outdoor rally. A older
classmate points to a
Japanese woman in her
mid-20s, and tells An he
kidnapped her when she
was a teenager.
OCTOBER 1996: The
Japanese TV producer who
interviewed An a couple of
years previously writes an
article for an obscure
journal in which he repeats
An’s story of the kidnapped
DECEMBER 1996: At a
seminar in Niigata, a police
officer attending a lecture
by the journal’s publisher
recognizes the description
of the woman An saw as
that of Megumi Yokota.
FINALLY, THE MEDIA DAM
FEBRUARY 1997: Following negotiations with
police, the journal’s publisher, and concerned
Diet members, Mr.& Mrs. Yokota agree to
release the name of their daughter and a photo,
with a declaration they believe she was
kidnapped to North Korea.
The story is front-page news, and finally, the
abduction issue is on the political and media
radar as never before.
CHANGES IN JAPAN
New generation of politicians is conservative and
``Japan’s neoconservatives’’. Favor tough line on
North Korea, unapologetic for Japan’s war crimes,
and aiming to rewrite history.
Megumi Yokota is the perfect poster child, and the
abduction issue is the perfect straw man, for many
of the neoconservatives’ complaints about Japan.
WHO THEY ARE
Ruling and major opposition
party men and women in their
late 40s and 50s, born after
World War II. Some are former
WHAT THEY SAY
``Megumi Yokota and
other abductees were
kidnapped by an evil
North Korea. When the
families tried to push
the government to take
a tough stance towards
North Korea, they were
betrayed by `traitors’ in
the Foreign Ministry, the
liberal media, and
certain politicians, who
refused to take them
1997– The Pivotal Year
JANUARY: DPJ’s Shingo Nishimura submits a series of
detailed questions to the Diet on the case of Megumi
MARCH: Two abduction issue-related organizations are
formed. The first consists of families of those who strongly
believe their relatives were kidnapped by North Korea. The
second is the National Association for the Rescue of
Japanese Kidnapped to North Korea, a nationwide group
AUGUST: At an informal series of talks in Beijing between
North Korea and Japan, North Korea agrees to look for
those Japanese who might be ``missing’’.
1999: Progress and Setbacks
March 1999: After nearly two years of lobbying, the
families of the abductees get a meeting with the
Prime Minister, who offers them tea and sympathy.
Not long afterwards, a North Korean spy ship is
caught in Japanese waters and fired upon. Public
anger towards North Korea rises, but some
politicians remain committed to helping out North
Korea, especially those with financial ties to pro-
North Korean groups and businesses in Japan.
2000: Good News, and Bad
March: The government
approves food aid for
North Korea, over the
protests of the families
and their supporters.
April: The new Prime
Minister tells families:
``No normalization of ties
with North Korea until
they agree to discuss
September: Japan agrees to
send an extra half million
tons of food aid, despite a
U.N. report that only
200,000 tons is needed.
Shady financial deals
between Japanese rice
growers and certain
politicians is alleged.
Families and their
supporters stage massive
protests against the
THE AGE OF BUSH AND KOIZUMI
In 2001, George W. Bush and Junichiro Koizumi
become U.S. President and Prime Minister. Both
take a hard line towards North Korea. Senior
Bush Administration officials express sympathy
for the abduction issue.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry is rocked by a series of
scandals and loses power and prestige. North
Korea-friendly politicians see their influence
PROOF(?) AT LAST:
Towards the 2002 Summit
AUGUST 2001: South Korean media reports indicate that eight
of the abductees are alive and living together in Pyongang.
Report says one of the eight was kidnapped while a teenager.
AUTUMN 2001: The wife of a Japanese man who had hijacked a
plane to North Korea in 1970 returns to Japan where, as agreed,
she is taken into custody.
MARCH 2002: Testifying at this woman’s trial, Megumi Yao,
who herself returned to Japan from North Korea in the 1980s
after marrying one of the Japanese hijackers, says she kidnapped
Keiko Arimoto. Her testimony is front page news, and the last of
the doubts about North Korea abducting Japanese is silenced.
PROOF(?) AT LAST:
Towards the 2002 Summit
By the spring of 2002, the abduction issue was a serious
political issue in Japan, and both North Korea and
Japan recognized that a summit was needed. Plans
began for a visit to North Korea by Koizumi later that
LATE AUGUST 2002: The U.S. Deputy Secretary of
State, who has heard about the summit plans, tells Japan
that the U.S. has credible evidence of North Korean
nuclear weapons program. U.S. worries that a summit
with Kim on abduction issue will make it impossible to
condemn North Korea on nuclear weapons.
But. . .
PRIME MINISTER KOIZUMI
ANNOUNCES HE WILL
TRAVEL TO PYONGANG IN
SEPTEMBER TO MEET KIM
``The main purpose of the visit is
to discuss the abduction issue.’’
The abduction issue is now the number one issue for
Japan’s relations with North Korea. No politician in any
party can afford to ignore it.
The Foreign Ministry has been largely purged of
bureaucrats whom the families and their supporters
believed hindered their cause.
The media treats the families and their support groups
with far greater respect.
The abduction issue is on the radar of the U.S.
Congress passed a resolution last July expressing
support for the abduction issue, a direct result of
intense lobbying in the U.S. by the families and their
The return of Megumi Yokota, whom they
believe is still alive. North Korea says she’s dead.
The return of eight other Japanese whom North
Korea says it kidnapped. North Korea claims
that they all died.
An investigation into the disappearances of up
to 150 Japanese who may have been kidnapped
to North Korea.
Economic sanctions on North Korea until it
releases all Japanese who were ``kidnapped.’’
The abduction issue included in school
textbooks as an example of human rights’
abuses by North Korea.
Police investigations into Chosen Soren and its
role in the abduction issue.
FINALLY, THE SUPPORTERS HAVE A
WHOLE RANGE OF NON-ABDUCTION
RELATED POLITCAL AND SOCIAL
CHANGES THEY WISH TO PUSH.
MOST OF THESE VIEWS ARE RIGHT-
WING AND HAVE TO DO WITH
HISTORICAL REVISIONISM AND THE
DENIAL OF JAPAN’S PAST.
Why was evidence that North Korea was involved in the
abductions, evidence that mounted throughout the 1980s,
virtually ignored by the central government?
Why was Seiroku Kajiyama’s claim in 1988 that some
Japanese had probably been kidnapped not followed up with
Why did certain politicians in the Japanese political and
bureaucratic worlds stifle the families’ attempts to find out
What was the role of Chosen Soren?
Why has there STILL been no official Diet investigation
into the history of the abduction issue, and which Japanese
leaders knew what and when?
In Conclusion. . . .
The abduction issue was supported and pushed by a group
of ordinary Japanese citizens who demanded, much to the
anger and irritation of the Foreign Ministry, certain media,
and the Diet, that the issue be forced on North Korea.
The abduction issue has convinced large numbers of
ordinary Japanese that, if they can organize an effective
grassroots campaign at the local level, they can play a
direct role in the nation’s foreign policy, a realm that has
traditionally not been what one might consider local
But, as the abduction issue has shown, all politics is local.
AND FINALLY . . . .
Those who wish to learn more about the
abduction issue and its affect on Japanese politics
can access my report for the
Japan Policy Research Institute at:
Questions? However. . .
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