Case studies: Faces of the taken

The Japanese government recognizes that 17 people were abducted by North Korea, but some people speculate there may have been hundreds more. Police believe that about 900 missing person cases could be instances of abduction.

Returned: Chimura Yasushi and Hamamoto Fukie

Chimura Yasushi and his wife Fukie retuned to Japan on October 15, 2002

Chimura Yasushi and Hamamoto Fukie, both 23, were abducted from Fukui Prefecture in 1978. They were on a date at a coastal park in Obama when they were set upon by men who bound and gagged them, then stuffed them into separate bags and put them on a boat.

The couple married in North Korea, where Yasushi was made a language instructor, and they had three children there. They returned to Japan in 2002 and resettled in their hometown. Now aged 67, Chimura Yasushi gives talks at local schools about the couple's experience. Relatives say the Chimuras live a slow and quiet farming life.

Returned: Soga Hitomi

Soga Hitomi retuned to Japan on October 15, 2002

Soga Hitomi was just 19 when she and her mother Miyoshi were snatched off a street on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, in 1978. The pair had just been shopping and were 100 meters from home when a group of men attacked and put them into sacks that were then loaded onto a boat. Soga has not seen her mother since.

In North Korea, she married a former United States soldier and defector, Charles Jenkins. The couple had two daughters.

Soga returned to Japan in 2002 where she settled back home on Sado Island. Her husband and children followed two years later. Jenkins died in 2017. Soga is now 63.

Returned: Hasuike Kaoru and Okudo Yukiko

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

Hasuike Kaoru was a 20-year-old law student when he and his girlfriend Okudo Yukiko, 22, were taken during a beachside stroll in their hometown of Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, in 1978. The couple married in North Korea where Kaoru taught Japanese language, culture and customs to foreign agents. They had two children.

After he and his wife returned to Japan in 2002, Kaoru finished his law degree and became an academic. The couple's children joined their parents in Kashiwazaki in 2004. Kaoru, 65, is an associate professor at the Niigata Sangyo University. He teaches Korean language and intercultural communication. His wife, 66, has retired from her job as a cooking assistant at a nursery school.

The missing dozen, plus others

There are 12 people whose status is unconfirmed. Pyongyang claims that eight of them have passed away and the remaining four never entered North Korea. The Japanese government does not accept those claims as there is no objective proof. There are also strong suspicions of other disappearances. The open cases include:

Missing: Kume Yutaka

Kume worked as a security guard in Tokyo. A man who was questioned by police told investigators he lured Kume out to a coastal region and handed him over to someone from North Korea.

Missing: Matsumoto Kyoko

Matsumoto had dinner at home with her mother before heading to a neighborhood knitting class. She never arrived at the class and has not been heard from since.

Missing: Tanaka Minoru

Tanaka has not been since he boarded a flight to Vienna. It is suspected that the owner of the ramen shop where he worked was a North Korean agent who lured his employee to Austria on false pretenses.

Missing: Taguchi Yaeko

Taguchi left behind two young children: a one-year-old son and a daughter aged two. Abductees who have returned to Japan have testified that she was teaching Japanese language to spies in North Korea.

Missing: Ichikawa Shuichi and Masumoto Rumiko

The couple said they were going to view the sunset and left for a drive. Ichikawa's locked car was found abandoned in a seaside parking lot.

Missing: Hara Tadaaki

Hara worked at a Chinese restaurant in Osaka. He was lured to a coastal area of Miyazaki City and abducted by a North Korean agent. The agent was looking for a Japanese person whose identity he could assume as his own for the purposes of espionage.

Missing: Arimoto Keiko

Arimoto was studying abroad in London. She was last heard from in a letter penned during a trip to Denmark.

Missing: Ishioka Toru and Matsuki Kaoru

Ishioka and Matsuki went missing in Spain. Ishioka was on vacation and Matsuki was living in Spain, studying Spanish.

The following people are among many others who disappeared. They are not on the Japanese government's recognized list of abductees, but they are believed to be victims of North Korea's kidnapping program:

Missing: Miyazawa Yasuo

Miyazawa was last seen at the lodging provided by his employer.

Missing: Fujita Susumu

Fujita left home to go to a local movie theater and has not been heard from since.

Missing: Osawa Takashi

Osawa was stationed on Sado Island for work. On the day he went missing, he was at the cafeteria near his dormitory where witnesses reported seeing him "being chased by unfamiliar men," followed by the sound of a car accelerating.

Missing: Goto Hisaji

Goto disappeared after stepping out to buy soy sauce at a local store.

Missing: Hoshino Masahiro

Hoshino's glasses, driver's license and passbook were found abandoned in his apartment.

Missing: Nakamura Minako

Nakamura vanished after her high school graduation ceremony.