Scroll to top

Shigeru Yokota, 87, Dies; Fought for Return of Abducted Daughter

2020-06-07 15:12:57

Shigeru Yokota, whose tireless campaign for the return of his kidnapped daughter and other abductees from North Korea made him a well-known figure in Japan, died on Friday outside Tokyo. He was 87.

In a statement, his wife, Sakie Yokota, confirmed his death, in a hospital. She did not specify the cause.

The couple’s daughter, Megumi Yokota, was one of what is believed to have been at least 17 Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and ’80s by the North Korean government, which forced them to teach their native language to spies. Pyongyang has admitted taking 13 of them.

Megumi Yokota disappeared in 1977 at age 13; she was last seen walking home from school in Niigata Prefecture, on the west coast of Japan. Mr. Yokota, who was working at the Bank of Japan at the time, joined with the families of other kidnap victims to lobby the Japanese government for their return.

He never saw his daughter again.

“My husband used up all his strength but could not meet Megumi,” Ms. Yokota said in her statement.

Mr. Yokota was born in Tokushima prefecture on the Japanese island of Shikoku on Nov. 14, 1932. He met his wife while he was working for the Bank of Japan in Nagoya. They had Megumi in 1964.

Over the decades, the Yokotas became the most prominent faces of the campaign to return the abductees. For a decade, beginning in 1997, Mr. Yokota headed the group dedicated to bringing the abductees back to Japan. He attended more than 1,400 meetings of the group across the nation.

His quiet strength and iron determination to reunite with his daughter won him admiration and allies from the smallest towns in Japan to the corridors of power. Returning the abductees became a key issue for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Speaking to reporters on Friday night, Mr. Abe said that Mr. Yokota’s death was “extremely regrettable” and pledged to use “every opportunity” to ensure that the other abductees would be returned to their families before it was too late.

In 2017, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump mentioned Ms. Yokota’s story as he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the United States or its allies.

The North’s government released five abductees in 2002 and provided death certificates for eight others, including Ms. Yokota. As recently as 2014, it agreed to open an investigation into their fates. It ended the inquiry when Japan imposed sanctions after a Korean nuclear test.

In 2014, Pyongyang allowed the Yokotas to meet what it said was Megumi Yokota’s daughter and granddaughter in Mongolia, which has maintained diplomatic relations with the North.

Many families, including the Yokotas, have chosen to believe that their relatives are still alive. The issue holds deep emotional resonance in Japan; it remains the most divisive issue in Japan’s relations with Pyongyang, even more so than the constant threat of North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

Japanese politicians regularly wear a blue enamel ribbon on their lapels, where others might wear a flag pin, signaling their determination to bring the abductees home.

Mr. Yokota’s death was the second this year of a prominent family member in the movement. Kayoko Arimoto, the mother of Keiko Arimoto, another abductee, died in February at 94.

Besides his wife, Mr. Yokota is survived by twin sons, Takuya and Tetsuta.

In a statement, Shigeo Iizuka, the current head of the group lobbying on behalf of the abductees’ families, said Mr. Yokota’s death was a reminder that time was running out.

“We knew this day would come,” he said, adding, “That’s why we have continued to plead, ‘Bring them home quickly while their family members still have their health.’”

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.


Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *