Three of the victims who made it home Three of the victims who made it home
Backstories

Three of the victims who made it home

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Five abduction victims who eventually made it back to Japan in 2002 are involved in a campaign to bring the rest home. Three of them were taken in Niigata Prefecture. Soga Hitomi, 63, was a teenager when she and her mother were snatched, while Hasuike Kaoru, 65, and his now-wife Okudo Yukiko, 66, were in their 20s.

    Shopping trip takes terrifying turn

    Soga Hitomi and her mother went missing on the evening of August 12, 1978. Hitomi was 19 and her mother, 46.

    They had just visited a store about 400 meters from their home to buy items for the Obon holiday. As they made their way back, they heard footsteps behind them.

    "'Who could that be? Kind of scary, isn't it?'," recounts Hitomi about the last conversation she had with her mother.

    They were just 100 meters from home when the ambush occurred.

    The store where the Sogas shopped before they were abducted

    Three men rushed at them, covered their mouths, tied their hands and feet together, and carried them to a river where they were loaded onto a small boat.

    "Where is my mother?"

    When Hitomi arrived in North Korea, she asked: "Where is my mother?" Her kidnapper replied, "She’s living happily in Japan. Don’t worry about her."

    Hitomi was taught Korean, and worked as a translator of novels and other works. She married a former United States Army soldier and defector to North Korea, Charles Jenkins. The couple had two daughters.

    Almost a quarter of a century passed between her abduction and 2002 return to Japan.

    Soga Hitomi, pictured holding a bouquet, returned to Japan on October 15, 2002

    A daughter's longing

    The whereabouts of Hitomi's mother, Miyoshi, who would be 91, remain unknown.

    Hitomi is committed to finding her. She collects signatures and gives talks at schools and other places to raise awareness.

    Soga Hitomi speaking at a lecture in Sado City, Niigata Prefecture, on August 28, 2022

    "I want my mom back," she says. "Even if it is only for a short while, I want to be with her for her last moments. I want to hear my mom say, 'I’m back.' And I want to say, 'Welcome home.'"

    A young couple's seaside horror

    Hasuike Kaoru and his girlfriend, Okudo Yukiko, pictured before their disappearance

    Hasuike Kaoru and his girlfriend Okudo Yukiko were abducted from a beachside area of Kashiwazaki City on the evening of July 31,1978. They were taken away after being approached by a man who asked, "Can you light my cigarette?".

    The last reported sighting was from a resident who saw them walking together at around 7 p.m.

    The beach in Kashiwazaki City where Hasuike Kaoru and Okudo Yukiko disappeared

    Other couples went missing that summer, and there were suspicions that North Korea was behind the disappearances. It took a decade before the Japanese government pointed the finger at Pyongyang.

    On the cusp of adulthood

    Hasuike was a 20-year-old college student in Tokyo. He was visiting his parents in his hometown, where Okudo, 22, worked at a cosmetics store.

    Married and alive

    At the 2002 Japan-North Korea summit, it was revealed the couple were alive and married with children. Hasuike Kaoru was doing translation work.

    In October of that year, the pair returned to Japan. Their two children followed two years later.

    Hasuike Kaoru and Yukiko returned to Japan on October 15, 2002

    The campaign continues

    Hasuike Kaoru calls for the return of abductees during a speech in Sado City, Niigata Prefecture, on August 28, 2022

    Hasuike gives lectures across Japan, including at schools in Kashiwazaki City, to remind people about the abductions and appeal for the return of other victims.