Takeshi Terakoshi, on a homecoming visit from North Korea for the first time since he disappeared 39 years ago, reiterated Monday that he was not abducted by Pyongyang.
Terakoshi, 53, told local officials in Ishikawa Prefecture he and his two uncles were rescued by North Korean fishermen when the fishing boat they were aboard was wrecked in the Sea of Japan in 1963.
“I left Takahama (in Japan) on a boat and was rescued by fishermen who worked for the fisheries office in Chongjin (in North Korea),” Terakoshi said. “I also graduated from school (in Chongjin).”
It is the first time during his homecoming visit that Terakoshi has told of what happened to him after his disappearance.
Speaking through an interpreter, he said Shoji Terakoshi, one of his uncles who disappeared with him, died March 30, 1967, after he had been hospitalized due to heart problems. The other uncle, Sotoo Terakoshi, died of lung cancer, he said.
Terakoshi said he now lives with his father, Tazaemon, who went to North Korea to join him, adding that Tazaemon is receiving medical treatment courtesy of the government.
He said he intends to bring his father and wife next time he returns to Japan for a visit.
Earlier in the day, Terakoshi visited his family’s grave with his 71-year-old mother, Tomoe, in the city of Hakui.
He later visited his now-empty childhood home, about five minutes from the cemetery by car, and ate a persimmon he picked from a tree in the garden.
The tree, one of several from which the young Terakoshi often picked persimmons, carries deep significance for his mother. It was Terakoshi’s description of the garden in a letter she received from him in 1987 that convinced her of his existence.
In the letter, Terakoshi wrote, “There were four persimmon trees and one Japanese medlar in the garden.”
Tomoe had said earlier that she wanted to show him the trees when he returned home.
Terakoshi arrived in Japan on Thursday as a member of a North Korean labor delegation. A resident of Pyongyang, he is now vice chairman of a labor union there.
Terakoshi went missing in May 1963 with his two uncles, when he was a second-year student at a local junior high school.
His parents learned their son was alive in 1987 in a letter they received from one of his uncles in North Korea. They visited him in Pyongyang that year, seeing him for the first time in 24 years.
In 1997, Terakoshi said through the North Korean media that the boat on which he and his uncles had been fishing was wrecked at sea and that a North Korean fishing boat rescued them.
Terakoshi and one of his uncles later acquired North Korean citizenship.