Endearing and moving figure in the fight for the repatriation of the Japanese kidnapped in the years 1970-1980 by North Korean agents, starting with his daughter Megumi, Shigeru Yokota died on June 5, in Kawasaki, at the age of 87 years. “My husband and I did our best together, but he died before seeing Megumi again. I am upset “said his wife, Sakie, 84, in a statement, also signed by his sons, Takuya and Tetsuya.
The return of her daughter was the battle of Shigeru Yokota’s life. Megumi was 13 when she disappeared one evening in November 1977 when she came home after badminton training in college. At the time, the family lived in a lodge in Niigata (north) on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Shigeru Yokota worked at the local branch of the Bank of Japan.
For a long time, the family wondered about this disappearance: runaway, suicide, kidnapping, all options were considered. “We spent our days suffering martyrdom from this mysterious disappearance”, tells Megumi’s father in a manga, Megumi (2008), published in several languages by the government and adapted as an animated film to raise international awareness about the kidnappings by North Korean agents.
Petitions, public interventions
Uncertainty lasts until the mid-1990s and daily revelations Sankei. Based on statements from a northern defector, the newspaper reports on a teenage girl abducted around 1977. The Yokota see their daughter there. The information was confirmed in 1997 by a parliamentary secretary announcing to the family that Megumi was alive and was in North Korea. “I was relieved because the nightmare was ending”, says Shigeru Yokota.
Curvaceous, white hair, voluble, he created in March 1997 the Association of Families of Victims of Kidnappings by North Korea (AFVKN), which he headed until 2007. After lively discussions within of the family, he also decides to make public the name of his daughter “Even if it could cause North Korea to eliminate it”. The association multiplies initiatives, petitions, public interventions, to raise awareness among the population. Over time, Megumi becomes the symbol of their struggle.
The movement benefited from the support, not without political ulterior motives, of the Japanese government and in particular of the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. So a simple parliamentarian, Mr. Abe forged his popularity in the early 2000s by showing a firm position on this issue.
A marriage and a child
Like the other families of the kidnapped, the Yokota lived to the rhythm of the negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang. Five of the seventeen people officially recognized by Japan as kidnapped by the North were able to return in 2002. Pyongyang, who recognizes only thirteen, maintains that eight others have died. Megumi would have committed suicide in 1994. Japan disputes this version because the remains handed over in 2004 by Pyongyang would present a different DNA.
The Yokota never accepted the idea of the death of their daughter. Hitomi Soga, one of the five kidnapped who returned in 2002, met her in Pyongyang. The Yokota later learned that Megumi had married Kim Young-nam, a South Korean kidnapper also in 1986, and that the couple had a daughter. In March 2014, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the Yokota were able to spend some time with this child, Kim Eun-gyong.
The calls to find their daughter, invoking their old age, ultimately yielded nothing, due to the deterioration of relations between Japan and North Korea due to nuclear tests and missile fire by Pyongyang, as well as of Mr. Abe’s choice to take a firm stand toward the North. The kidnapping case remained trapped in political issues beyond the humanitarian issue, and Shigeru Yokota was unable to see his daughter again.
Shigeru Yokota in a few dates
November 14, 1932 Birth in Tokushima (Japan)
November 15, 1977 Abduction of daughter Megumi
1997 Establishes the Association of Families of Kidnappers by North Korea
June 5, 2020 Death in Kawasaki (Japan)