Abductees visit friends, relatives, family graves

Five Japanese who were abducted to North Korea in 1978 and are now on their first homecoming visited relatives and family graves on Friday.

The returnees, making their first visit home in almost a quarter century, returned to their hometowns in Fukui and Niigata prefectures on Thursday.

Kaoru Hasuike, 45, went to see his bedridden grandmother at a welfare facility in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture. His wife, Yukiko Okudo, 46, stayed at her family home in the same city. The two were abducted together in 1978 and married in 1980 in North Korea.

After spending the night at the family home, Hasuike visited his 91-year-old grandmother, Kikui, accompanied by his father, Hidekazu, 75, his mother, Hatsui, 70, and his older brother, Toru, 47.

Kikui took care of Hasuike and his brother while their parents were working, family members said, adding the grandmother is particularly fond of Hasuike.

Hasuike ate ham, eggs and bread for breakfast.

He also listened to an old record his friend brought over, saying, “I remember this,” his family said.

Okudo meanwhile ate sweet dumplings brought over by her former classmates.

“My Korean is bad,” she told her friends while speaking of her 24 years in North Korea, “so the people there often ask me if I’m a (Korean) resident of Japan.”

Okudo told her friends that her children are more attached to their father because Hasuike is a “doting” father.

In winter, she said, the temperature sometimes falls to below zero, even indoors.

“Maybe that’s why kimchi is eaten there,” she joked.

The five, abducted from their hometowns to North Korea in three separate incidents in 1978, arrived in Tokyo from Pyongyang on Tuesday for a temporary homecoming that is expected to last between 10 and 14 days.

Hitomi Soga, 43, who returned to her hometown of Mano on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, visited her family grave at a Buddhist temple near their home. She was accompanied by her younger sister, Tomiko Kaneko, 37, and her father, Shigeru, 70.

At the temple, Soga was presented with a cake bearing a message congratulating her on her safe return to Japan. About a decade ago, her family created memorials at the temple for Soga and her mother, Miyoshi, who disappeared together 24 years ago. Miyoshi remains missing.

Soga ate rice, miso soup, simmered squid and other dishes for breakfast, according to Etsuko Soga, a relative who dropped by to offer some green chili peppers pickled in miso. Soga reportedly told her sister she had slept well.

Later in the day, Soga attended a reunion at Niigata prefectural Sado High School and received her diploma from the school, where she was taking night courses up until her abduction in August 1978 at the age of 19.

Kazuki Homma, 57, Soga’s former teacher, attended the reunion.

Yasushi Chimura, 47, and Fukie Hamamoto, 47, who were abducted together and married in 1979 in North Korea, visited the grave in Obama, Fukui Prefecture, of Chimura’s mother, Toshiko, who died in April at the age of 74.

Hamamoto visited Chimura’s home early Friday and together they offered prayers for Toshiko at a Buddhist altar. Later, they visited her grave and reported their marriage to his late mother.

Toshiko’s health deteriorated shortly after her son was abducted. She had been bedridden for more than 20 years.

Chimura’s father, Tamotsu, 75, said he hoped to hold a wedding reception for the couple as soon as possible.

The couple have three children in North Korea.