Japanese authorities on Friday started issuing passports to five Japanese who were abducted to North Korea in 1978 and are now back in Japan on a brief homecoming visit.
Yasushi Chimura and his wife, Fukie Hamamoto, received their passports Friday, according to government officials in Fukui Prefecture.
The other three — Hitomi Soga, Kaoru Hasuike and his wife Yukiko Okudo — who are visiting their family homes in Niigata Prefecture, are expected to receive theirs soon, officials in the prefecture said.
With the five abductees having applied for the passports, Tokyo is expected to work toward their permanent return when normalization talks between Japan and North Korea resume later this month, according to government sources.
Experts say the act of applying for Japanese passports suggests they hope to return to Japan to live.
Takeshi Terakoshi, a Japanese national who went missing while fishing in the Sea of Japan in 1963 and returned home for the first time earlier this month, did not apply for a passport during his stay, although his mother wanted him to do so.
Between Oct. 3 and Oct. 12, Terakoshi, vice chairman of a labor union in Pyongyang, conducted his first visit to Japan since he went missing, serving as a member of a North Korean union delegation.
Chimura and Hamamoto, both 47, submitted applications and sat for passport photos Thursday after arriving in their hometown of Obama, the officials said.
Passport details were processed on the basis of travel documents issued to the couple by the Foreign Ministry, the officials said, as neither was able to supply the usual documents necessary for identification, such as a driver’s license.
The Fukui Prefectural Government pushed the applications through as quickly as possible, an official said, citing their short stay and humanitarian reasons.
In Niigata Prefecture, 45-year-old Kaoru Hasuike and his wife, 46-year-old Yukiko Okudo, also applied for passports Friday, according to Hasuike’s brother, Toru.
Toru said that Kaoru removed his North Korean lapel pin when he posed for a photo for the passport.
Hitomi Soga, 43, who is visiting her hometown on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture, applied for a passport Friday afternoon.
House of Representatives lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa, a member of a Diet group aiming to help Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea, said passports for the abductees’ children should be issued without further delay and that the children must be brought to Japan.
Hamamoto wants to go
OBAMA, Fukui Pref. (Kyodo) Fukie Hamamoto, one of five Japanese abducted to North Korea in 1978 and now visiting Japan, only wants to spend about 10 days here, her brother, Yuko said Friday.
“I have three children (in North Korea) so I want to go back in around 10 days,” Yuko, 73, quoted his 47-year-old sister as saying.
Hamamoto and her husband, Yasushi Chimura, also 47, as well as three others from Niigata Prefecture arrived in Tokyo from Pyongyang on Tuesday for a temporary visit to their mother country. They traveled to their hometowns on Thursday.
Yuko said Fukie has made no mention of wanting to make a permanent return to Japan.
The returnees reportedly said they want to stay in Japan until around Oct. 24. The government meanwhile has proposed Oct. 27 as their return date.
Their families, unsurprisingly, want them to stay as long as possible.
North Korea has reportedly agreed to allow the five abductees to stay for around two weeks.
Hamamoto and Chimura married in North Korea in 1979, more than a year after they were abducted together by North Korean agents along a beach in Obama. They have a 21-year-old daughter and two sons aged 18 and 15.
The couple did not inform their children they were going to Japan, a source said.