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Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012

Abductee unsure trip home was for good


When freed abductee Kaoru Hasuike met up with his childhood friend Koshiro Maruta in early June for their first reunion in nearly 10 years, he quietly thanked him for urging him to stay in Japan and not consider his trip home a brief reprieve from Pyongyang captivity, even though his children had to stay behind.

News photo
Free at last: Yasushi Chimura (right, front), his wife, Fukie (center, front), Kaoru Hasuike and his wife, Yukiko (center), and Hitomi Soga (upper left) get off a plane at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Oct. 15, 2002, returning to Japan after more than 20 years of captivity in North Korea. KYODO

"I am where I am today because you persuaded me to stay back then," Hasuike told Maruta.

In October 2002, Hasuike and his wife and fellow abductee, Yukiko, had stepped foot in Japan for the first time in 24 years after being abducted to North Korea.

He had believed their homecoming was just a "temporary visit" back to Japan, based on Pyongyang's official position, and was worried about the safety of the two children they left behind in North Korea.

At that time, Maruta traveled to their hometown of Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, and made a desperate effort to persuade the couple not to try to return to North Korea and instead wait for their kids to be allowed to join them.

That was later arranged, but not without difficulty.

Both Maruta and Hasuike had been close friends since kindergarten. Even after Hasuike started college at Chuo University in Tokyo and Maruta began working in Saitama Prefecture, the two spent time together.

Maruta was the first person Hasuike named when he met in Pyongyang with Japanese officials in charge of negotiating the abductees' return. The delegation was the product of two historic trips in 2002 by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Pyongyang.

Soon after Hasuike returned, Maruta pressed him to hand over his "North Korean badge." Hasuike, angered, refused.

The Hasuikes, along with three other repatriated abductees, had worn the lapel badges featuring North Korean founder Kim Il Sung for the initial two months after their return. Removal of the pins was a symbolic gesture, as they had been worn in North Korea to show allegiance to the state.

Hasuike's children were able to join them in Japan 19 months after the couple's repatriation, as were the offspring of abductees Yasushi and Fujie Chimura and the American husband and daughters of Hitomi Soga.

A decade on, Maruta said he could sense Hasuike's hardships in everyday life when they chatted over the phone. Hasuike would talk about his aging parents, and his concerns for his adult children, who were not fluent in Japanese.

But Maruta said he also felt Hasuike gradually manage to break North Korea's "spell."

Hasuike had once revealed that "in order to survive, there was no choice but to adjust to the North," according to Maruta.

At their first meeting just a few months ago, Hasuike appeared relaxed. Maruta said he felt relieved when Hasuike thanked him for the first time.

"With the children now grown up and independent, and (the family) having secured a stable means of living, I guess he has finally found peace of mind," Maruta said.

Over the past decade, Hasuike completed his degree at Chuo University. He now teaches Korean at Niigata Sangyo University and works as a translator.

Shoichi Nomata, 54, Hasuike's classmate in high school, said the former abductee worked hard to be positive because he wanted to set a good example for his children, who had been cast into a new world without friends and so different from what they had been taught to believe while growing up in North Korea.

Yukiko Hasuike, 56, works as an assistant at a nursery school kitchen, while their daughter, Shigeyo, 30, is a graduate student and their son, Katsuya, 27, started working this past spring.

Two years ago, the Hasuike family began declining the government's monthly stipends for returned abductees because they could pay their own way.

Still, Hasuike and his wife remain haunted by the specter of North Korea's abduction of other Japanese. "They still bear the cross that only they made it back to Japan," Nomata said.

Hasuike's brother, Toru, 57, is displeased with how the government handles the abduction issue, with its official list of only 17 people believed to still be in North Korea. He suspects many more people were abducted but are not on the government's radar, saying, "The government is so coldhearted."

The Hasuikes were single and dating when they were abducted by North Korean agents from a Kashiwazaki beach in July 1978. Koizumi managed to bring them, and the three other abductees, home on Oct. 15, 2002, after his landmark visit to Pyongyang that September. He got the rest of their families out in May 2004.

During Koizumi's summit with Kim Jong Il on Sept. 17, 2002, Kim admitted Pyongyang had abducted 13 Japanese and claimed eight had died.

Tokyo maintains that 17 were taken in the 1970s and '80s, and that it does not accept Pyongyang's position that the remaining abductees in North Korea are dead.

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