Megumi Yokota was born on the 5th of October 1964 as the first child of father Shigeru (born on the 14th of November 1932) and mother Sakie (born on the 4th of February 1936).
When Megumi was four, she became a big sister to her twin brothers Takuya and Tetsuya. Shigeru worked for the Bank of Japan. In July 1976 he was transferred to Niigata Prefecture and the family of five settled in a town by the sea. Shigeru’s hobby was photography and he took many pictures of his young family.
In April 1977 Megumi started going to a junior high school near her home.
On the 5th of October 1977 Megumi became 13 years old. About ten days later in mid-October the whole family went to Niigata Airport to see Shigeru’s father off who had been visiting them. Megumi’s photograph taken at the airport that day became the last one of hers taken in Japan. In the photograph her hair was much shorter than before as she had ventured to try a different hairstyle.
On the 14th of November 1977, Megumi presented Shigeru with a comb for his 45th birthday. The next day, on the 15th of November 1977, Megumi did not come home from school after staying late to play badminton. Having parted with her friend at a street corner on her way home, she vanished. When her parents’ frantic search failed to find her, they reported her disappearance to the police. Despite the police’s best effort, they found no clue, no witness, no signs of foul play, nothing. Megumi’s devastated family had to live nearly two decades in the dark, not knowing what had happened to her. When overwhelmed by grief, Sakie would shut herself in a cupboard to cry, so that the twin boys would not see her. Shigeru cried too when he was alone having a bath.
From the 1970’s to early 1980’s, an unusual number of Japanese citizens had suddenly disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Journalist Masami Abe noticed that three young couples had vanished within two months of July and August 1978; all of them were believed to have been by the sea at the time of disappearance. He subsequently published an article in Sankei Shimbun on the 17th of January 1980 under the headline of “Three Couples Mysteriously Disappear / Foreign Spy Agency Involved?”. The issue was raised at the Japanese Parliament two month later for the first time, but was not taken too seriously and no action followed. Several years later Korean Air Flight 858 was bombed in November 1987. The two perpetrators turned out to be North Korean agents carrying fake Japanese passports. They both tried to kill themselves by ingesting cyanide and only one of them, 25-year-old female Kim Hyon-hui, survived. She later confessed that she had been taught Japanese language and customs by one of the Japanese abductees in North Korea. With the investigation by the Japanese authorities helped by testimonies from North Korean defectors and former agents, it gradually became clear that North Korean government was involved in the abductions of Japanese citizens.
Eventually Megumi was officially recognised by the Japanese government to be one of the victims of North Korean Abductions of Japanese citizens. “Japan’s Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea” was formed in 1997 and Shigeru became its first representative. He served the post for ten years until his deteriorating health forced him to step down.
There was major development in 2002. Then Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited North Korea on the 17th of September. According to former North Korean Diplomat Thae Yong-ho, Koizumi promised to give North Korea US$10 billion in return for admitting to the abduction and returning the abducted. Kim Jong-il accepted the offer and verbally apologised, stating that the abductions had been carried out without the knowledge of North Korean government and those responsible had already been disciplined.
Although Japan had officially recognised that at least 17 Japanese citizens had been abducted, North Korea insisted that the number of the abducted that had actually entered the country were 13, and that 8 of them including Megumi had already deceased, therefore there were only 5 survivors. The cause of eight deaths were explained as: 2 in car accidents, 2 by gas poisoning, 2 of heart attacks, 1 of cirrhosis and 1 by suicide.
After negotiations, the five survivors were allowed to “temporarily” return to Japan and they placed their feet on the soil of their homeland the following month, on the 15th of October 2002. The five survivors understandably refused to return to North Korea, even though some of them had left their children behind. North Korea condemned this and rejected further negotiations.
Because the abduction theory was too far-fetched to believe, until then there was strong skepticism in the general public of Japan. North Korean leader’s admission blew it all away. The fury of Japan’s public was tremendous. In May 2004 Koizumi visited North Korea for the second time. Although Koizumi could no longer give North Korea US$10 billion, the children of the returned abductees were successfully released to Japan in May and July that year.
At the time of Megumi’s disappearance, police used sniffer dogs, but the trail went cold about 800 yards from home. What happened to Megumi finally came to light when a former North Korean agent who had actually abducted Megumi made a statement. According to him, while Megumi’s family were frantically searching for her, she was already confined in the cold and dark hold of a boat en route to North Korea. During the forty-hour journey she desperately scratched the wall and the hatch opening, crying and calling for her parents. When she arrived in North Korea, her fingers were covered in blood with one finger nail nearly lost.
The area where she used to live is just over 2km from Niigata Station and is certainly very close to the sea.
From the testimony by Kim Hyon-hui, it is believed that another female Japanese abductee Yaeko Taguchi was her “teacher” of Japanese language and customs. Kim Hyon-hui stated that Megumi Yokota was training another female agent.
According to North Korea, Megumi married Kim Young-nam, a South Korean abductee on the 13th of August 1986 and gave birth to a baby girl on the 13th of September 1987. In September 2002 North Korea stated that Megumi was hospitalised on the 29th of January 1993 suffering from depression. Two months later, after walking in the hospital grounds with a doctor’s escort, Megumi managed to commit suicide by hanging herself from a pine tree. However in November 2004 North Korea amended their statement that Megumi was hospitalised in March 1994 and killed herself on the 13th of April that year. She was initially buried behind the hospital, but in 1996 or 1997 her husband exhumed her body for cremation and burial in a new location. Because of this, the location of her grave is now unclear. Her husband Kim Young-nam later remarried and now has a son with his second wife.
In November 2004 North Korea returned a very small amount of “Megumi’s remains” to Japan, together with a few photographs of her taken in North Korea. The DNA testing was carried out and it concluded with controversy that the remains were not hers. Due to the lack of evidence of her death, many people in Japan would like to believe that Megumi is still alive. There have also been claims by North Korean defectors that they saw some of the “dead” abductees including Megumi after their alleged deaths. In China some believe that Megumi had been executed and cremated with others and therefore North Korea had no choice but hand over the remains of someone else. As for Megumi’s daughter Kim Eun-Gyong, her DNA matched with Megumi’s, which confirmed their biological relationship.
Although North Korea had repeatedly offered Shigeru and Sakie Yokota a chance to meet their granddaughter, the Yokotas had refused, believing that “Megumi should come first” and also fearing that their visit might be regarded as acceptance of Megumi’s death. Fully aware of their age and deteriorating physical health, however, Sakie and Shigeru met their granddaughter Kim Eun-Gyong in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar in March 2014. Born in 1987, Kim met her husband at an university in Pyongyang. After he taught her computer skills they became close and married in 2011. Their daughter was born in May 2013. Kim came with her family – her husband and her daughter, the Yokotas’ great-granddaughter. Afraid of getting Kim into trouble, the Yokotas did not talk much about Megumi. Kim just reiterated that her mother Megumi was dead.
Shigeru and Sakie later stated that they spent three days together and Kim cooked them a meal. Sakie loved seeing her granddaughter and great-granddaughter as she only had grandsons in Japan. She also realised later that it had probably been the last chance for them to travel abroad to see Kim, as Shigeru’s health deteriorated soon afterwards.
The Yokotas’ long wait for Megumi’s return is now in the 41st year. For the first two decades they had no idea of what had happened to their daughter. They then spent the next two decades tirelessly campaigning to get their beloved daughter back with tremendous decency and dignity.
At the time of Megumi’s abduction they were in their forties, but forty years on, mother Sakie has become 82 of age in February this year and father Shigeru is to become 86 on the 14th of November – the day before the 41st anniversary of Megumi’s abduction. In recent years Megumi’s younger brothers Takuya and Tetsuya have taken over their father’s role. The twins were only nine years old when Megumi disappeard. They are now nearly 50 years old and are fathers themselves.
It has been reported that Shigeru, Megumi’s father aged 85, lost his power of speech and ability to walk about two years ago. He was hospitalised in April this year and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe visited him.
Links for further reading on this issue:
It was later confirmed that some members of the Japanese Red Army assisted North Korea and carried out the abductions of three Japanese citizens which took place in Europe. North Korea claimed that the graves of six deceased abductees had been lost in a flood. Remains of one more “deceased” abductee (Kaoru Matsumoto) was returned to Japan, but that DNA did not match either.
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Because Megumi was the youngest victim by far, she has become the symbol of the whole issue over the years. To be honest, I was initially skeptical of the North Korean abductions theory. Why abduct Japanese citizens who cannot speak Korean at all for training their spies? Surely it would have been much more reasonable to request assistance to disgruntled Koreans living in Japan who spoke fluent Japanese and were accustomed to Japanese culture and manners? I thought it much more likely that a serial killer was being active at different locations in Japan.
I started living in England in 1992, therefore did not have the chance to see the development at first hand. Born in 1962, I am two years senior to Megumi, so I was fifteen years old when Megumi was abducted one month after her 13th birthday. Since then I grew up with my family, finished education, worked in Tokyo, came to England, got married, gave birth to our daughter, raised her and let her leave the nest to be independent. All this long while poor Megumi has been forced to live a life she did not choose, or even wish. When I realised for the first time that Megumi had really been abducted by North Korea, I felt so sorry for her. But now, having raised a child and in my fifties, I also feel compassion for her parents. Was Megumi mistaken for an older citizen? Or did she witness something too serious to be left behind and was therefore abducted?
A young girl was robbed of her own family and the future she was to have. Young parents were robbed of their first child and only daughter. A young, ordinary, decent and happy family were robbed of their normal happy future. I wonder how many tears Shigeru and Sakie have shed looking back at their happy times of when they had no idea what fate the future had in waiting for them.
Looking at the recent pictures of Megumi’s parents wells my eyes with tears. Their time is running out. Most likely their days are now numbered, especially Shigeru’s. Some parents of unreturned abductees passed away without seeing their loved ones again. They did nothing wrong to deserve this unimaginable grief.
Please do not let the Yokotas leave this world before seeing Megumi again.
Please let them see Megumi…..!
Abducted during Kim Il-sung’s regime (1972-1994),
claimed to be dead without evidence under Kim Jong-il’s regime (1997-2011),
and still missing under current Kim Jong-un’s regime (2011-).
It is high time that the issue is resolved, to say the least.
For me, until this issue is resolved, North Korea is nothing more than the abductor of Megumi Yokota. It seems to me however, that this issue is still very little known outside Japan. I would therefore appreciate it very much if you could share this post on social networks, in order to raise awareness. Thank you.