Abductees hid Japanese identities in North Korea

The five abductees who returned home from North Korea this week kept their Japanese identities hidden in the North, pretending instead to be returned Korean residents from Japan, relatives of the group said Wednesday.

They are also refusing to talk about political issues, the relatives said.

Meanwhile, the joy and excitement of Tuesday’s homecoming turned to disappointment for family members of other abductees who have reportedly died.

In a meeting with the group of five in Tokyo, the relatives said they failed to get any relevant information about their loved ones.

The relatives said they had the impression that the five were under pressure not to speak about the truth, fearing it might compromise the safety of their children, who were left behind in North Korea.

One couple, Kaoru Hasuike and Yukiko Okudo, even told their son in Pyongyang when they left for Japan that Okudo was going away on a holiday and Hasuike on a business trip.

“As a result, we could not get any relevant information,” said Shigeo Iizuka, brother of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted in 1978 and reportedly died in a car accident in 1986.

Taguchi is believed to have taught Japanese to former North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui, who was convicted in the terrorist bombing of a Korean Air jet in 1987.

“When it comes to political issues and the abduction cases, (the five survivors) were completely silent,” Iizuka said. “All of them said they had no idea when I asked about the bombing of the Korean Air or Kim Hyon Hui. They were looking down, did not make eye contact and seemed like they were made to say they knew nothing about other abducted people.

“One day,” Iizuka continued, fighting back tears, “I want to be the one holding flowers at the airport.”

According to Teruaki Masumoto, brother of Rumiko Masumoto, who reportedly died of heart disease in North Korea, the relatives showed many photos of the seven Japanese who are claimed to be dead, except for abductee Megumi Yokota, but the five survivors said they had seen none of them.

Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto, a couple who were abducted in 1978, told Masumoto they were separately taken to the North and lived alone, only with a female caretaker, until they were reunited and married in 1979. They lived in a suburb of Pyongyang where spying facilities were located until 1998, when they moved to Pyongyang.

Hasuike and Okudo also lived in the same community as Chimura’s couple, but the two couples did not talk to each other because they were hiding their identities. The couples learned they were Japanese nationals only recently when plans were made for them to make a homecoming visit to Japan.

Their story — first living separately, later marrying, then moving to the suburb and finally to Pyongyang — was almost identical to that of Chimura and Hamamoto.

“I felt like I was listening to a tape recorder,” Teruaki Masumoto said. “They talked about the same thing as if they had arranged what to say.”

Hamamoto’s brother, Yuko, said his sister was crying, saying if the couples had known each other and that they were all Japanese they could have helped one another and may not have led the life they had.

Hasuike’s brother, Toru, raised doubts about his brother’s accounts that he knew nothing about North Korea’s starving people or public execution of political criminals. Kaoru Hasuike also told Toru that he was not scared when he was abducted nor did he ever think he might be killed.

“It was very odd,” Toru said. “He knew nothing about how things were in North Korea, maybe he was pretending that he didn’t know.”

He added that it was even stranger that Kaoru explained in detail about heating systems in North Korea when he asked about it in relation to the story of how another abductee, Keiko Arimoto, reportedly died.

Arimoto reportedly died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning coal heater.

Kaoru said that since such heaters are usually underneath the floor, the gas poisoning could have happened if the floor was old. “It sounded like he was justifying the information provided by North Korea.”

The five survivors also talked about abductee Megumi Yokota, who reportedly committed suicide after suffering from depression.

Hitomi Soga, one of the five, told Megumi’s father Shigeru Yokota that she lived with Megumi for about two months in a guest facility in Pyongyang, played badminton with her and went to hiking together. She met Megumi twice afterward, but did not know Megumi had died until recently.

Both Chimura’s and Hasuike’s couples had met Megumi at guest facilities, and said Megumi was quiet, and was often ill. They reportedly heard Megumi suffered from a mental illness and died in 1993, as North Korea claims.

Hamamoto, whose son was attending the same kindergarten with Megumi’s daughter, was quoted as saying she taught Megumi how to use a sewing machine and went to the movies together.

“They all said Megumi was so quiet. But my daughter was very active, loud and was almost never ill,” her mother, Sakie, said. “She must have suffered so much and become a negative person. I just feel so sorry for her.”