NIIGATA – A Japanese woman who was abducted to North Korea decades ago and repatriated to Japan in 2002 says she is simply grateful for her late husband’s encouragement to return to her homeland.
In a statement issued Tuesday — just over two weeks after the death of her 77-year-old husband Charles Jenkins — Hitomi Soga recalled that she was initially hesitant to return to Japan — as she would leave Jenkins and their two daughters behind. But it was her husband who helped push her along, she recalled.
Soga, 58, was one of five Japanese citizens who repatriated in 2002 after a landmark summit in Pyongyang held between Kim Jong Il, the North’s leader at the time, and then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The summit resulted in Kim admitting his country’s involvement in the abductions that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
“My husband understood the most how much I wanted to return to Japan,” Soga said in her statement, dated Monday and released Tuesday through Niigata Prefecture’s Sado Municipal Government.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that I am now living in Japan thanks to him. In retrospect, I am very thankful for his decision,” Soga said.
Under an arrangement by the government, Jenkins came to Japan with the couple’s two North Korea-born daughters — Mika and Brinda — after being reunited in Jakarta with Soga in July 2004.
That November, a U.S. court-martial found Jenkins guilty of desertion and sentenced him to 30 days in prison. After an early release, he started his new life with his family in Sado, Soga’s hometown.
Since meeting Jenkins in North Korea 37 years ago, Soga said they shared good and bad times, describing life in the reclusive state as one with “twists and turns.”
In the end, she said that what made her the happiest was that nobody in the family suffered from any major illness.
Jenkins, a former U.S. Army sergeant who deserted to North Korea in 1965, came to know Soga — who was abducted and taken to the country in 1978 — as he taught her English. They married in 1980.
Touching on her husband’s penchant for motorcycles, Soga recalled how Jenkins one day started repairing a soon-to-be-scrapped motorcycle. He scrambled to gather the parts needed to repair it. She said she will “never forget” how happy her husband looked when he succeeded in starting the engine.
In Sado, Jenkins worked as a clerk at a souvenir shop, despite a language barrier, and gained popularity for his friendliness.
“It has been 13 years since we decided to settle in Sado, and my husband had lived the best he could,” she said.
People who knew him said he enjoyed his life in Japan and was seen blending into the community.
Soga said she believes his “40 years of hardship in North Korea were rewritten with 13 years of life in Japan.”
She added that she wishes she had made more time to talk to him, and regrets that her mother, Miyoshi, was not able to meet Jenkins.
Jenkins died of arrhythmia at a local hospital on Dec. 11, while the fate of Soga’s mother, who was also abducted, remains unknown.
The Japanese government officially lists 17 citizens, including Soga and the four others who were repatriated, as having been abducted by North Korean agents, while Tokyo suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances of Japanese nationals. Pyongyang claims eight of the abductees have died and that four others never entered the country.