As details about the fate of more than a dozen Japanese abducted to North Korea trickle in, relatives of many others who vanished in the 1970s and ’80s say they want these disappearances re-examined to determine if their kin were also spirited away by Pyongyang agents.
Minoru Tanaka, a noodle shop worker in Kobe, was 28 when he disappeared in Europe in 1978.
A monthly newsmagazine in 1996 quoted a suspected former North Korean agent, who has since died, as saying that Tanaka was handed over to a fellow agent after arriving in Vienna. Hyogo Prefectural Police have since been trying to learn what happened to him.
Tanaka graduated from a Kobe high school in 1968 and was working at a local noodle shop. The North Korean agent reportedly told the newsmagazine that the manager of the eatery managed to persuade Tanaka to travel to Vienna.
A group in Hyogo Prefecture seeking the return of Japanese abducted to North Korea said it has information that a man claiming to be Tanaka visited the high school several years after Tanaka left Japan to apply for a reissuance of his diploma.
Japanese employers typically ask a job applicant to submit a school diploma during job interviews.
The exact date when the man visited the high school is not known as those involved have only a vague memory of the encounter, the group said. It claims, however, that Tanaka was probably taken to North Korea and that the man who visited the high school was trying to assume his identity.
Although many other Japanese nationals vanished, Tokyo specifically identified 11 people as being abducted to North Korea between 1977 and 1983.
It was not until 1997 that the National Police Agency officially accused Pyongyang of snatching them.
North Korea last week admitted for the first time carrying out 13 abductions and provided information on 14 people, including the 11 on Japan’s official list.
Pyongyang stated that five of the 14 are alive, eight are dead, and there is no record of the remaining person ever entering North Korea.
These revelations have shocked the nation and raised suspicions that many others were spirited away to the Stalinist state.
On Saturday, the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, citing its own probe, urged authorities to investigate the cases of about 60 other people whom they suspect were abducted.
Miho Yamamoto from Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, disappeared at age 20 after leaving home June 4, 1984, to go to a library. Four days later, her bag, containing her driver’s license, cash and a letter from a friend, was found on a beach in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture.
Her family searched the beach and nearby eateries in vain for clues to her whereabouts. Eighteen years later, her twin sister, Misa Morimoto, has been handing out fliers on the beach seeking any clues about her fate.
“I had long thought that my sister had simply left home. But after reading news reports about (abductees) Megumi Yokota and Keiko Arimoto, I came to believe she had been kidnapped,” she said. “If so, I hope I can find her and rescue her.”
A Niigata police official said the case has been reopened at the request of the family but evidence of an abduction has yet to be established. On Saturday, Yamanashi Prefectural Police spoke with Morimoto regarding details of her sister’s disappearance.
Kyoko Matsumoto was 29 when she disappeared on the night of Oct. 21, 1977, after leaving her home in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, to attend a sewing class.
A neighbor reportedly saw a woman matching her description with two men in a forest about 200 meters from her home. When he asked them what they were up to, the men beat him up and fled in the direction of the beach with the woman in their clutches.
Pyongyang officials said last week that Hitomi Soga, who was a 19-year-old nurse on Niigata Prefecture’s Sado Island when she and her mother, Miyoshi, vanished in 1978, is alive in North Korea. Soga was not on the Japanese list of 11 suspected abductees.
Suspicions are now mounting that another person may have been spirited away to North Korea from Sado Island four years before Soga disappeared.
The unidentified man, who was a 27-year-old worker at a local agricultural office when he vanished, was last seen in the village of Niibo on Feb. 24, 1974.
Police at that time found no clues to his fate.
When he disappeared, the family concluded he had probably killed himself, although no corpse was ever found. They held a funeral anyway and had the man’s name struck from the family register.
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