35 years ago in November, Megumi Yokota at the age of thirteen disappeared while walking home from her school in a village of Niigata Prefecture, Japan. Investigations concluded that she was abducted by a North Korean agent in western Japan, where she was dragged into a boat to be sent off to North Korea and was forced to teach Japanese language and culture for the training of North Korean spies. This disturbing and bizarre kidnapping was a crime that captivated Japan during the late 1970s to early 1980s. Megumi was not the only one. In 2002, at meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister, Kim Jung Il admits that North Korea has abducted numerous Japanese people during the period of 1978 to 1983. North Korea has admitted to thirteen abductions in total during the period and eventually let five Japanese citizens return home. However, the real number of abductions will never be known.
Her parents, now in their eighties, still believe that Megumi is alive. Ms. Yokota says that she raised Megumi until she was thirteen and she knows what her strengths and characters are. North Korea claims that Megumi has committed suicide due to mental illness and stress on March 13, 1994 (originally announced as 1993 but corrected to 1994). Megumi’s parents have received her ashes—what North Korea claims to be her ashes— but the DNA test has been inconclusive. The Yokota family has taken this case to the highest level, as far as the White House in the United States, but they have not been fortunate enough to receive definitive answers. Mr.Yokota says that the Japanese government can’t just sit back and wait, that the Japanese government needs to demonstrate its strong determination to bring Megumi back. But the reality is not as easy as it sounds.
What still remains in question is whether Megumi has married a South Korean national, Kim Young Nam and even has a daughter who is now in her twenties currently living in North Korea. Megumi’s husband has also confirmed that Megumi has committed suicide in 1994 and has had suicidal attempts before her death. Later, however, it was found that Kim Young Nam was not allowed to speak freely during his interview in Pyongyang and that “it looked as if he was reading a script”.
It is still broadly believed that Megumi is still alive due to certain evidences South Korea media was able to obtain. In November 2011, a South Korean Magazine Weekly Chosun presented a 2005 directory of Pyongyang residents that listed a woman named Kim Eun Gong who had the same birthday as Megumi. The Japanese government has verified the list, but has yet to identify the woman listed. There have been controversies that the woman listed is actually Megumi’s daughter, but due to North Korea’s strict surveillance, everything remains uncertain.
Megumi has also received a lot of media attention by documentaries, songs, television shows and movies about the life and the process of abduction. Despite all this, the Japanese government has not been very active in resolving abduction cases caused by North Korea. Ms. Yokota hopes that the new North Korean leader, Kim Jung Eun may work more towards peace because of his exposure to the West, but we can only wait to see such changes. “I just want to hold her in my arm, after all she’s been through.” says Ms. Yokota as her final comment during the interview when she was asked if she thinks she will ever see her daughter again.