Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

North Korean kidnappings

In the 70s and 80s, North Korea kidnapped around 70 Japanese people. The communist state needed Japanese language and culture teachers for its spies. Some abductees were killed soon after, and their identities adopted by North Korean agents.

Until recently, North Korea denied these abductions, and the issue was considered a conspiracy theory by Japanese left-wingers. In September 2001, Kim Jong-Il admitted the kidnappings and allowed 5 abductees to return home.

The Pyongyang Agreement was signed between the countries, which declared that “the abductee issue will be resolved completely”, without defining what that resolution would be.

Japan claims that North Korea has violated the agreement, as abductees’ families have not been allowed to return to Japan with them. There is further confusion, in that many of the people Japan demands to be returned are claimed to be dead by North Korea.

Ms Soga

The most famous abductee is Hitomi Soga. She married Charles Jenkins, a US Army deserter, in North Korea, with whom she had two daughters. After her release in 2002, she faced an uncertain wait to see if her family would also be allowed to follow her.

The story dominated national news for weeks, and was followed anxiously by millions of Japanese people. Prime Minister Koizumi made a controversial visit to Pyongyang, where he organized their release. Ms Soga was reunited with her family in Jakarta in 2004.

The Soga saga wasn’t finished. When Jenkins arrived in Japan, he was forced to hand himself over to the American armed forces, who charged him with desertion. Although he was 64, and in poor health, he could have been sent to prison.

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