Japanese woman living in North Korea voices wish to visit parents’ grave

Kyodo

An 84-year-old war-displaced Japanese woman still living in North Korea expressed hope Wednesday to visit the grave of her parents in Japan, amid a stalemate in talks between the two countries.

“I hope (North) Korea and Japan will be close countries,” Ruriko Arai also said at her home in North Korea’s eastern coastal city of Hamhung, where she has lived since her teens, when asked if she has anything she wants to request of the Japanese government.

Her remarks made to Japanese media outlets — a transcript of which was provided to Kyodo News — come as North Korea has hinted at its willingness to resume communications with Japan on certain humanitarian issues.

It is rare for North Korea, whose ties with many countries are strained over its nuclear and missile programs, to organize a meeting of this kind with Japanese journalists.

Arai, whose Korean name is Ri Yu Gum, said she has never visited Japan, though she has been exchanging letters with her younger brother living there.

Her parents hailed from Japan’s southern prefecture of Kumamoto, but she was born in Seoul when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule prior to the end of World War II in 1945.

She said she got separated with her family members, who eventually managed to go back to Japan, in the postwar chaos, and was raised by a local woman in Hamhung.

Speaking in Korean, Arai said she has no wish to live in Japan but wants to visit the grave and meet her kin. The 84-year-old said she currently lives with her son and a grandchild’s family.

According to a North Korean official, there were 24 war-displaced Japanese nationals remaining in South Hamgyong Province after 1945, but all except Arai have already died.

Under an agreement with Japan, North Korea set up a special team in 2014 to look into the whereabouts of Japanese nationals suspected of being abducted by its agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

But North Korea announced in February last year it had disbanded the special investigation committee in response to the Japanese government’s decision to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang.

The special committee was tasked with what North Korea had described as a full-scale survey of all Japanese nationals, including those still living in its territory after the end of the war.