Yokota Shigeru, father of N.Korean abductee Megumi, dead at 87

A man who devoted half his life campaigning to bring back Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea died on Friday without ever reuniting with the one person who motivated his struggle. Yokota Shigeru saw many abductees return to Japan, but never his daughter Megumi.

One of the abductees who did come home read out a letter to Yokota on Saturday. Soga Hitomi had lived with Megumi at one time in North Korea.

“I really hoped he would be able to see Megumi again,” she said. “I’m devastated that he died with his hopes unfulfilled. He was always kind to me. Every time I met him, he would thank me for staying with Megumi and ask me to let him know if I recalled something about his daughter.”

Five of the abductees returned home after the first-ever summit between Japan and North Korea, in 2002.

Yokota’s daughter vanished 43 years ago, when she was 13 years old. Some 20 years passed with little clue as to her whereabouts before it came to light that Megumi had been abducted by North Korean agents.

It is now known that from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, the regime in North Korea regularly kidnapped Japanese nationals and forced them to instruct North Korean spies in the Japanese language and other activities.

Raising awareness

Yokota launched an association of relatives of the abductees in 1997 and acted as its leader. At a time when the media had little interest in the issue, and some questioned whether the abductions had even happened, Yokota and his wife Sakie traveled the country to rally support for the group's cause.

In the wake of a 2002 summit with Japan, North Korea admitted to carrying out the abductions, and returned five people it had taken. However, Pyongyang said Megumi had died.

North Korea later submitted to Japan what it claimed were Megumi’s remains. But DNA analysis suggested it was not her, giving the Yokota family fresh hope that Megumi might still be alive.

It soon transpired that Megumi had married and given birth to a daughter in North Korea. Yokota traveled to meet his granddaughter Kim Eun Gyong in Mongolia in 2014, but her mother was not with her.

Yokota’s battle for the return of his beloved daughter became a personal race against time. He stepped down as group leader in 2007 due to illness and had been hospitalized since April 2018.

The Yokotas traveled Japan, giving more than 1,400 speeches calling for the return of the abductees.

Relatives’ reactions

Relatives of other abductees spoke of their sadness at his death.

Masumoto Teruaki, who hasn’t seen his sister Rumiko for decades, says the Yokotas led the families’ efforts to try to get their loved ones back. He says without their leadership, the campaign would have ended a long time ago.

Ichikawa Kenichi, whose brother Shuichi was taken, says Yokota must have felt constant despair and anger at the lack of progress on the issue, but never showed it and was always smiling.

Yokota Megumi was abducted by North Korean agents 41 years ago, when she was just 13.

Yokota’s hobby was photography and he started taking photos of Megumi soon after she was born. He cherished a photograph he took of her when she started junior high school, a little over six months before she was abducted.

Megumi missed the enrollment ceremony because she had measles, but one Sunday Yokota took her to the school to take a photo of her in her uniform. That photo became an iconic image of the abductee issue. Decades later, Yokota recalled what happened that day.

“Megumi had just recovered, and I had her stand under a cherry tree for the photo. I looked at my daughter through the lens and was overwhelmed with emotion, realizing she had grown into a wonderful girl."