10 years after, former abductees still trying to erase the horrors of North Korea

October 15, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

KASHIWAZAKI, Niigata Prefecture--Kaoru Hasuike speaks proudly of how his two children adapted to Japanese society, completed their educations and landed jobs of their choosing--all within 10 years.

If not for his children, Hasuike also says, he and his wife, Yukiko, might not have survived their nearly quarter century living in a hermit nation that had dashed their dreams and turned their lives upside down.

Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike are two of five Japanese citizens who were repatriated 10 years ago, on Oct. 15, 2002, after being abducted by North Korean agents in 1978.

Their return to Japan came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il confirmed the abductions during a meeting in Pyongyang in 2002 with a visibly shaken Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The North Korean government agreed to return five of the abductees.

The announcement sparked a mixture of outrage against the North Korean regime and an outpouring of sympathy for the victims in Japan.

Questions were raised about other missing Japanese and if the five abductees could readjust to life in Japan.

Additional questions surfaced about how the abductees’ children, born and raised in North Korea, would fare when they later joined their parents in Japan in 2004.

It was a concern that was also on Hasuike’s mind.

"My children were raised as Koreans," Hasuike said he thought when his children came to Japan in May 2004. "Will they be able to get along in Japan?"

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Hasuike said he came up with a plan after noticing that foreign students were attending universities in Kashiwazaki.

"If my children think of themselves as foreign students when they start their new lives, they will realize that Japan is a free country, where you can do anything you like as long as you work hard," Hasuike recalled telling himself.

Hasuike, 55, began working as a translator of Korean and as a college lecturer. He started writing memoirs about his post-abduction life two and a half years ago, around the time he convinced himself that his children were becoming self-reliant and taking actions based on their own motivations.

His memoirs will be published on Oct. 17 by Shinchosha Publishing Co. under the title "Rachi to Ketsudan" (Abduction and decision). But he said he will stick to his position of not writing or saying anything that could jeopardize a possible resolution of the abduction issue.

The Japanese government recognizes 17 Japanese citizens who disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s as having been abducted by North Korea. Tokyo has repeatedly demanded that Pyongyang provide more information on those still missing.

North Korea, however, insists that eight of the Japanese, including Megumi Yokota, who disappeared when she was 13, have died and that the four others never entered the reclusive country. North Korea stuck to its position that the abduction issue has been resolved during bilateral talks that resumed in August this year.

Hitomi Soga, 53, who was abducted after shopping with her mother in August 1978 on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, now works at a nursing-care facility for elderly citizens run by the Sado city government.

In her spare time, she is busy pushing for a resolution of the abduction issue--and continuing her search for her mother, Miyoshi, who remains missing.

On Oct. 7, Soga joined a petition drive demanding action toward a resolution. Several times since 2006, Soga has stood in the streets to collect signatures.

In a memoir she released in September this year, Soga wrote, “Could anybody tell me where my mother is?"

"You might think she has returned to her old lifestyle, but the past 10 years could not have been easy," said Tsuginori Wada, the 73-year-old leader of a support group dedicated to Soga and her mother.

Soga’s American husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, 72, whom she married in North Korea, works at a souvenir shop in Sado.

Mika, the couple's 29-year-old daughter, works for a nursery and Brinda, their 27-year-old daughter, is employed by a brewery.

For a few years from 2005, Mika and Brinda lived away from their parents to study the Japanese language and to attend vocational schools. The daughters, born in North Korea, now speak fluent Japanese in the Sado dialect.

“Soga probably wanted her daughters to do whatever they like because she herself spent her own youth under strict rules in North Korea," said Kazuhiro Iwasaki, a 52-year-old former classmate.

Yasushi Chimura, 57, and his wife, Fukie, 57, were also concerned about the lives in Japan of their three children, who were born in North Korea.

Yasushi, now a city government employee in Obama, Fukui Prefecture, and Fukie, a prefectural government employee on contract, were snatched by North Korean agents in the city in July 1978. They also were married in North Korea.

"We had a mountain of concerns and problems (after returning to Japan), including social rehabilitation, our children's school enrollments and job placements," Yasushi told a news conference on Oct. 4. "But we were able to adapt promptly, thanks to assistance by the central, prefectural and municipal governments, as well as many supporters. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to them."

Their three children, 31-year-old daughter Emi, 29-year-old son Yasuhiko and 24-year-old son Kiyoshi, have all found jobs, sources said.

For Kaoru Hasuike, the successes in Japan of his 30-year-old daughter, who completed graduate school, and 27-year-old son have been instrumental in overcoming the hell he experienced in North Korea.

"I finally came to believe that my decision to stay in Japan (instead of returning to North Korea as was initially agreed) was the right choice for my children," Hasuike said. "That also helped me come to terms with the events of the past."

He said he was often pained by gloomy memories of his 24 years in North Korea.

In July 1978, Hasuike, then a college student in Tokyo who was visiting his native Kashiwazaki for the summer holidays, was abducted while on a date with his future wife.

Instead of the wedding they had desired, Kaoru and Yukiko, now 56, were married in North Korea in 1980.

"We had been stripped of all ties and all dreams of life," Hasuike told The Asahi Shimbun. "Raising our children became our goal of life."

He said they pretended to be ethnic Koreans repatriated from Japan to prevent discrimination against their children from North Koreans.

He also said he feared his children would grow up underdeveloped during the food crises of the 1990s that led to malnutrition among the local children he saw.

When tensions rose between North Korea and the international community in 1993 over the country's nuclear development program, he shared thoughts with his family members on how they could reunite after a possible separation.

In 2000, a senior North Korean official asked Hasuike if he was ready to tell the world that he was alive in North Korea. Before the Koizumi-Kim meeting in 2002, Hasuike was inculcated with the false story that he had become adrift on a boat and was rescued by a North Korean ship.

At a news conference with his wife in Kashiwazaki on Oct. 13, Hasuike expressed optimism for a breakthrough in the abduction issue.

"The central figures (of the new North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un) are people with relatively open minds who would seek to do novel things," he said. "North Korea, cash-strapped, is eager for progress in its relations with Japan. The country cannot bypass the abduction issue."

Yukiko said she often thinks about the abductees who remain in North Korea and their family members.

"They will certainly be able to return if only they are safe and sound," she said. "I have never forgotten about them."

(This article was compiled from reports by Ryuichi Kitano, Kohei Tomida, Daisuke Shimizu and Keibu Horikawa.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Kaoru Hasuike and his wife, Yukiko, hold a news conference at the Kashiwazaki city hall in Niigata Prefecture, on Oct. 13 to mark 10 years since their repatriation from North Korea. (Kohei Tomida)

Kaoru Hasuike and his wife, Yukiko, hold a news conference at the Kashiwazaki city hall in Niigata Prefecture, on Oct. 13 to mark 10 years since their repatriation from North Korea. (Kohei Tomida)

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  • Kaoru Hasuike and his wife, Yukiko, hold a news conference at the Kashiwazaki city hall in Niigata Prefecture, on Oct. 13 to mark 10 years since their repatriation from North Korea. (Kohei Tomida)
  • Hitomi Soga, right, collects signatures for a petition seeking a resolution of the abduction issue in Sado, Niigata Prefecture, on Oct. 7. Soga was abducted by North Korea in 1978 and was returned to Japan on Oct. 15, 2002. (Daisuke Shimizu)
  • Yasushi Chimura, left, and his wife, Fukie, hold a news conference Oct. 4 at the Obama city hall in Fukui Prefecture to mark 10 years since their repatration from North Korea. (Wataru Netsu)

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