A Japanese woman who had been in Chinese custody for two weeks after fleeing North Korea in November arrived in Japan shortly before noon Wednesday, her first time home in 44 years.
The 64-year-old woman, accompanied by Foreign Ministry personnel, was released by Chinese authorities earlier in the day and took a China Northern Airlines flight from Shenyang, Liaoning Province, to Kansai International Airport.
She then boarded an All Nippon Airways flight to Tokyo’s Haneda airport and arrived in the capital shortly before 3 p.m. Her name is being withheld at her request.
Dressed in a black coat and wearing a gold scarf around her head, the woman tried to hide her face from journalists at the Kansai airport terminal. Surrounded by about 10 ministry officials, she did not respond to questions from the roughly 70 reporters gathered there. A Foreign Ministry official said she has expressed a wish not to meet the media and has asked that her name not be publicized.
“There are points we cannot mention due to security concerns,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said. “We want to give sufficient consideration to ensure her personal safety.”
The woman was quoted by Foreign Ministry officials as saying, “I am grateful for the consideration of the governments of China and Japan.”
The woman appeared a little tired but is otherwise fine, they said. She was given a physical checkup at a hospital.
The ministry said it will assist “as much as possible” her efforts to start a new life here. The officials did not elaborate about what kind of support is planned, saying the ministry will discuss this with the woman in the near future.
They added she is expected to meet with relatives at a “suitable time.”
In the past, the Foreign Ministry has helped dozens of Japanese spouses and former Korean residents of Japan who fled to China from North Korea return to Japan secretly with cooperation from Beijing.
But the woman’s case was complicated after individuals who made arrangements for her escape sought a mediating fee from the Japanese government in return for handing her over, drawing attention as a suspected kidnapping incident.
The woman, who left Japan for North Korea in 1959 with her ethnic Korean husband, is reported to have crossed the Chinese border Nov. 28 with the help of a support group.
According to the ministry, the supporters contacted the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to say the woman was in hiding in China and threatened to send her back to North Korea unless they were paid off.
As a result, Japan asked the Chinese government to protect the woman “as a criminal case in which a Japanese national was involved,” a ministry official said.
On Jan. 15, Chinese authorities in Jilin Province stopped the woman and two of her supporters, who are former North Koreans who defected to South Korea. The authorities arrested the supporters and took the woman into custody, the ministry said.
Her support group said earlier it had submitted to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo a letter from her, dated Jan. 2, in which she requested help from the government so she could meet her sister and visit her parents’ grave in Japan.
The letter also says her husband was arrested and held as a political prisoner in the 10th year after she arrived in North Korea, and that she had been moved to a remote mountainous area together with her two children. The husband’s fate is unknown.
Mitoji Yabunaka, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday to meet with Fu Ying, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, to discuss the issue of the woman’s return.
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