Hometowns plan warm welcome

Preparations for abductees' permanent return in works

The hometowns of Japanese nationals who were abducted to North Korea nearly a quarter-century ago are gearing up to welcome the five, who returned to Japan on Tuesday.

Friends and local governments in Fukui and Niigata prefectures are also making preparations to deal with the possibility they could return to Japan for good.

The five are Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto, both 47, from Fukui Prefecture; Kaoru Hasuike, 45, and Yukiko Okudo, 46, from Niigata Prefecture; and Hitomi Soga, 43, also from Niigata Prefecture. They arrived at Haneda airport in Tokyo around 2:20 p.m.

In Obama, Fukui Prefecture, a support group headed by the mayor was set up to take care of the immediate and future needs of Chimura and Hamamoto.

The group is studying measures to help them find jobs and housing in case the couple someday live permanently in Japan.

Chimura’s classmates in elementary school say they intend to hold a welcome party for him Sunday. But Shinji Morimoto, 47, a high school teacher and former classmate, emphasized that Chimura needs to spend time with his family.

“We want to hear Yasushi’s feelings about whether or not he wants to meet us,” Morimoto said.

In the hometown of the other couple, Hasuike and Okudo, in Niigata’s Kashiwazaki, a liaison group has been formed to support the couple’s return.

Hasuike and Okudo were abducted together from Kashiwazaki on July 31, 1978. They reportedly married on May 15, 1980, and have a son in college.

A group formed by Haisuke’s classmates from Kashiwazaki Senior High School said it is preparing to escort Hasuike to places he may want to visit to reminisce about life before his abduction.

Yuji Koyama, 45, a representative of the group, said that while it is best to leave them alone to spend time with their families, associations at the couple’s elementary, junior high and high schools are working together to make preparations to welcome them.

The town of Mano on Niigata’s Sado Island, will provide Soga with a car and a driver as well as a town employee as an escort. It is also hoped that a traditional festival on the island scheduled for Sunday will add to the welcoming atmosphere.

Soga’s homeroom teacher in elementary school, Hiroshi Toda, 69, said he will wait and see how things progress before deciding to pay a visit to his former student as he understands she will want to spend time with her family.

Soga was abducted on Aug. 12, 1978, along with her mother, on their way home from grocery shopping. Her mother’s whereabouts are unknown.

The five abductees are expected to stay in Japan for up to two weeks. The children of the two couples and Soga, who married a U.S. soldier who defected to the North, remain in North Korea.