Abductees return to Fukui, Niigata hometowns

The five abductees who returned to Japan on Tuesday arrived in their hometowns on Thursday afternoon, telling local residents they were happy to be back for the first time since being kidnapped to North Korea in 1978.

“I’m overjoyed at being able to set foot in Kashiwazaki for the first time in 24 years,” abductee Kaoru Hasuike told a news conference in his Niigata Prefecture homet
own. “I’d like to spend the time mostly with my parents.”

Hasuike’s wife, Yukiko Okudo, who was also abducted from Kashiwazaki, told the same news conference, “I’m filled with a sense of gratitude for being welcomed warmly wherever we go.”

The other abducted couple, Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto, returned to Obama, Fukui Prefecture, while Hitomi Soga returned to Sado Island, also in Niigata.

“I didn’t know we had become such a big issue while we were away,” Chimura told locals gathered in front of a city gymnasium in Obama. “Now that I have come back, I realize that Japanese people and the residents of Obama have worked on our case as if it were for their own children.”

Chimura’s wife, Hamamoto, who is also from Obama, said, “I can’t believe so many people have gathered here. It’s like a dream.”

Meanwhile, Soga told a news conference in her hometown of Mano that she was very happy to be back for the first time in 24 years.

“The sky, the earth and trees are all whispering to me ‘welcome back, you’ve made it.’ That’s why I’ve come back happy,” she said.

As the five returnees arrived in their hometowns, they exchanged warm hugs with relatives and friends amid loud cheers.

The five had earlier left a Tokyo hotel where they had stayed with their families since arriving from Pyongyang. Chimura and Hamamoto caught a flight from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, while the three others took a shinkansen bullet train to Niigata.

It remains unclear as to when the five will return to North Korea, where their children and Soga’s husband remain.

Prefectural police in Fukui and Niigata have expressed an interest in interviewing the abductees in detail over how and where they were abducted by North Korean agents nearly a quarter century ago.

But the five have refused to provide details on their disappearances, according to families of other abducted Japanese who interviewed them Wednesday.

Relatives, friends and municipal officials in the abductees’ hometowns are holding or planning events such as welcome ceremonies, private parties and tours.

Chimura and Hamamoto, who were married in 1979, traveled on a bus to the gymnasium in Obama where a welcome reception was held, after landing at Komatsu airport in Ishikawa Prefecture.

The couple and their families visited the family homes of both Chimura and Hamamoto after the reception.

Soga, 45-year-old Hasuike and 46-year-old Okudo were first driven from JR Niigata Station to Niigata Stadium for lunch.

The couple, who were married in 1980, were then driven to their hometowns. Soga took a flight from Niigata airport to Sado Island.

The Kashiwazaki Municipal Government assigned four officials to handle the homecoming of Hasuike and Okudo and assigned about 80 police officers to control traffic near their homes.

Soga, 43, was reunited with her father, Shigeru, at his home in Mano after stopping at the town hall. Her father could not come to greet her in Tokyo due to health reasons.

In her hometown, Soga was also met by a welcome banner prepared by a local pressure group. The group was set up to rescue Soga and her mother, Miyoshi, who is still missing 24 years after the pair disappeared while on their way home from grocery shopping.

The five abductees arrived early Tuesday afternoon at Haneda, where they were welcomed by their parents and siblings, as well as government officials.

On Wednesday, the families of seven other abduction victims whom North Korea says have died met with the five to ask about the lives and fate of their missing relatives. The surviving abductees said they only knew about one of the others — Megumi Yokota, who was snatched in Niigata in 1977 at age 13.

Abductee’s father dies

KAGOSHIMA (Kyodo) Shoichi Masumoto, the father of one of the eight Japanese nationals whom North Korea claims have died since they were abducted, passed away Thursday at a hospital here. He was 79.

Masumoto had been hospitalized since late August.

According to information provided by North Korea, Masumoto’s daughter, Rumiko, was kidnapped to North Korea from Fukiage, Kagoshima Prefecture, on Aug. 12, 1978, at the age of 24 and died of heart disease Aug. 17, 1981.

Rumiko’s elder sister, Fumiko Hirano, 52, said that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s trip to North Korea in September had fueled Masumoto’s hopes that he would be reunited with Rumiko.

North Korea said Rumiko was married to another Japanese abductee, Shuichi Ichikawa. , six months after they were abducted to North Korea. Ichikawa drowned Sept. 4, 1979, after suffering a heart attack while swimming at a beach, Pyongyang claimed.

Terakoshi spied on

Takeshi Terakoshi, a Japanese who disappeared while fishing in the Sea of Japan in 1963 and has since lived in North Korea, was monitored round-the-clock during a recent visit to Japan by a member of a North Korean union delegation, according to an abductees support group.

The union delegation member kept a close watch on Terakoshi’s activities and carefully examined how he was being treated in the media during his visit, said a member of a group supporting Japanese who were abducted to North Korea. in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The support group member said Wednesday he got his information from Terakoshi’s mother, Tomoe, whom he talked to via telephone.

According to this group member, Tomoe, who lives in the Ishikawa prefectural capital of Kanazawa, said she was scared by the delegation member’s remarks that another homecoming trip to Japan would be unlikely if she and her son did not behave well.

Terakoshi, a vice chairman of a labor union in Pyongyang, made the visit to Japan from Oct. 3 to Oct. 12 as a member of a North Korean union delegation. It was his first homecoming since he went missing in 1963.

Terakoshi, who has obtained North Korean citizenship, denies he was abducted to North Korea.

The support group member revealed the accounts of Terakoshi’s stay following a news conference that was held for family members of Japanese who are reported to have died since being abducted to North Korea.

Speaking at a Tokyo hotel, he also said North Korean authorities, including two officials of North Korea’s Red Cross Society, may be carrying out similar surveillance of five abductees who began a homecoming Tuesday. The Red Cross officials accompanied the five from Pyongyang.