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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Never in Japan, can kin 'return' here?

Staff writer

OSAKA -- Many Japanese newspapers, magazines and TV stations are reporting that the offspring of five Japanese who were abducted to North Korea in 1978 and repatriated in October 2002 will be "returning" to Japan if North Korea lets them leave.

But "returning" can hardly be the appropriate term for people born and raised in North Korea, who carry North Korean passports and who have never set foot in Japan.

The Japanese media are using the term "kikoku suru," which means to return to one's country. But whatever the legal arguments for claiming the children are Japanese because their parents are Japanese, the term seems off the mark, said Lee Young Hwa of the Rescue the North Korean People Urgent Action Network (RENK). "North Korea is the only country these children know."

Hokkaido-based author and human rights activists Debito Arudou, a naturalized Japanese who was born in the United States, agrees with Lee.

"The situation of the children is complicated, a consequence of kidnapping and tragedy. But let's not jump the gun and assume that to these people Japan is home, or even their country, yet.

Unfortunately, the use of the word 'kikoku' does just that," he said.

Kenichi Asano, a journalism professor at Doshisha University and a former reporter with Kyodo News, said editors and broadcasters should be telling people the offspring, if Pyongyang allows them to leave, will be flown to Japan or are simply coming to Japan, not returning home.

"By using kikoku suru, the media are just repeating the vocabulary used by the abductees' families in Japan, their supporters and the Japanese government, without thinking about the actual situation of the children themselves," he said.

Also, perceptions stemming from use of "kikoku" may lead to practical problems later on, critics said.

According to Lee, the term casts the image that Japan is "home" for the offspring. But if the offspring are allowed to come, and they eventually request dual citizenship so they can visit North Korea, or even decide they do not want to stay in Japan, after they have "returned home," Japan may find this hard to take, he said.

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