Letters and other contacts have confirmed that at least 538 out of an estimated 1,800 Japanese women who moved to North Korea with their Korean husbands are still alive, data compiled by a civic group and made available July 25 indicate, as bilateral efforts continue to set the stage for allowing the women to visit Japan.

The group dispatches relief goods to the Japanese women. It said that as of last December, 538 of them were confirmed to be alive in North Korea through exchanges of letters and other communication with relatives.

Tokyo estimates some 1,800 Japanese women went to North Korea between 1959 and 1982 with their Korean husbands. North Korea has so far not allowed any of them to visit Japan.

Pyongyang has not disclosed the exact number of the women, and has recently told a visiting official of a Japanese organization that it has no information about the whereabouts of about half of the 1,800. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto appeared optimistic this week that the women will be allowed to visit relatives in Japan. “The matter is whether all of them can freely come and go as they wish. I’m sure such a possibility is in sight,” Hashimoto told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence on July 24. He also confirmed that the next unofficial contacts between Japan and North Korea will be upgraded from the division director level to that of deputy bureau chief.

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