ABDUCTED JAPANESE FOREIGN NATIONAL: Megumi Yokota
On the afternoon of November 15, 1977, 13-year old Megumi Yokota was walking home from badminton practice at her high school in Niigata when she was seized by North Korean operatives. Although no one can know exactly how the abduction occurred, three decades later her mother would be able to piece together a gruesome description of Megumi’s abduction. She believes Megumi was thrown into a car, taken to a nearby ship, and locked in a storage hold where she wept, screamed, and clawed at the steel door for the entire trip to North Korea.
Very little is known about the cases the world would most like to hear the North Korean regime explain. The compelling story of Megumi Yokota is arguably the most infamous example of a forced abduction, largely because of Megumi’s young age at the time (thirteen) and the devoted activism of her parents, Sakie and Shigeru Yokota. Unfortunately, little is known about her life in North Korea except small glimpses, many of them second-hand, gleaned from former North Korean agents like Kim Hyon-hui. Kim, a former terrorist agent for North Korea, revealed Yokota had been a language instructor in Pyongyang.
Agent Kim Hyon-Hui later recalled that Yokota was the Japanese teacher for Kim Suk-hee, another female spy that she knew. Fukie Chimura, one of the five Japanese abductees who returned in 2002, also said that Yokota taught a woman whom she recalled was named named “Suk-Hee.” There is also some evidence that Yokota taught two sons of Kim Jong-il—Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-chul. When he defected, former agent Ahn Myong-jin testified that he received language instruction from Yokota at the Kim Jong-il Political and Military University.
Another North Korean agent who defected recalled the young Megumi as very smart. He said that she had begged to be returned to Japan, and was told that if she studied the Korean language hard, she would be returned. Believing this, she studied hard and for 5 years, repeatedly asked for permission to leave but was always denied. The agent opined that this cycle of promises, betrayal, and disappointment led her to become mentally ill and she was sent to a mental hospital generally reserved for agents. The former North Korean spy said he had met her at the hospital where she told him her story.
Through reverse DNA testing in 2002, it was discovered that Megumi Yokota had married a South Korean abductee, Kim Young-nam, and, subsequently, that they had a daughter named Hye-gyong. According to the testimony of abductee Kaoru Hasuike, Yokota and Kim separated in the spring of 1993.
Although North Korea claimed in 2002 that Megumi Yokota died in March of 1993, another Japanese abductee, Fukie Chimura, said she had lived next door to Yokota for several months, starting in June of 1994. Chimura testified that Yokota “was suffering severe depression and was mentally unstable.” Another abductee, Hasuike, claimed that he helped arrange for Yokota to enter a psychiatric hospital in March of 1994. Therefore, some details of Megumi Yokota’s life in North Korea have been corroborated but whether she remains alive is still unknown.
In response to the Japanese investigations into the abduction of its citizens in 2002, North Korea pronounced certain people dead and delivered ashes to their families. According to North Korea, Megumi Yokota died on March 13, 1993. The ashes said to be those of Yokota have been proven through DNA testing not to be hers.