Friday, April 27, 2007


Between 1977 and 1983, 15 Japanese nationals were abducted and taken to North Korea to be used as teachers of Japanese language and customs. The above photo shows a poster of a young girl called Megumi Yokata who was abducted on her way home from school in 1977. If alive, she is now 30 years old.

Attempts to have the abductees repatriated finally resulted in 5 people returning to Japan in 2002 and other family members being allowed to return in 2004. The North Korean government had since denied the presence of other alleged abductees in North Korea, or has reported their deaths.

Although this story dates back decades, the issue of the abductions is far from being old news in Japan, and Japan is still actively seeking the return of it’s missing citizens, and will ask for Americas help in doing so.

There is another aspect of the Japan – North Korea relationship to consider. Writing for ‘Counter Punch’ in 2006, Christopher Reed implied that the Japanese government was hypocritical in making the issue of the abductions the main focus of talks with North Korea when it has never been held accountable for its own misdeeds:

“By force of arms, Japan annexed the entire (Korean) peninsula in 1910 and ran it as a colonial property for 35 years”
He also notes that:
“The older [than the abductions], but incomparably worse mistreatment of Koreans over 3 decades is hardly mentioned in Japan.”

During the second world war, the situation worsened for those under the control of the Japanese military, with hundreds of thousands of Koreans being forcibly relocated to Japan to mine coal for the military and women being used as sex slaves (euphemistically ‘comfort women’).

Ellen van der Ploeg, a Dutch national, was relocated from an Indonesian prison camp during the war and forced to work in a Japanese military brothel. She, and the other surviving women (mostly from Asia) were offered “atonement” in the form of money from a fund set up by the Japanese government. In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, she said that she had not accepted because “… it was not directly from the Japanese government”, and therefore not an actual apology, or admission of guilt.

The fund was described as being from the ordinary citizens of Japan. “If this were a purely government fund, I could have accepted it”, said van der Ploeg, “…but the Japanese government to this day has never taken full responsibility.”

Recently elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been quoted as denying that the Japanese military played any part in the coercion of foreign nationals into sex slavery. Such a denial in the face of testimonial from people like van der Ploeg does little to help the image of the Japanese as those who have been wronged.

In short, the Japanese government expects the North Korean government to do that which it is not prepared to do itself; own up and make amends. The fact remains however that Japanese citizens were abducted by a foreign power which then lied about their presence within its borders. Christopher Reed called this “…an international scandal by any standards”

Families hoping for a resolution and a return of missing members are caught up in a chain of events and political differences that reaches back almost a century. Certainly the return of any remaining abductees and full investigation into the deaths of others by the North Korean government would go a long way to help improving North Koreas standing internationally. But the Japanese government must be prepared to take the first step and make formal apologies of their own, and for the sake of the families of the abducted, they should consider doing this soon.

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