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Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012

Returnees' quest for normalcy tempered by thoughts of those still missing


TSURUGA, Fukui Pref. — At a small dinner party with relatives and close friends in April to mark the 10th anniversary of his return from North Korea, former abductee Yasushi Chimura mentioned a concern that has been weighing on his mind lately — finding marriage partners for his three adult children.

News photo
A decade free: Yasushi Chimura and his wife, Fukie, face reporters Oct. 4 in Obama, Fukui Prefecture, ahead of the 10th anniversary of their repatriation from North Korea. KYODO

"I don't know if there are any suitable people out there," Chimura, 57, was quoted by a participant at the dinner party as saying.

In response, one of them teased him by saying, "You say that, but I bet you're actually feeling a bit lonely, aren't you?"

Chimura laughed shyly, while another dinner companion assured him it was too early to worry about being an empty nester.

Chimura and his wife, Fukie, also 57, were abducted by North Korean agents from their hometown of Obama, Fukui Prefecture, in 1978, before they were married.

They were allowed to return to Japan on Oct. 15, 2002, following Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's historic trip a month earlier to Pyongyang and a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The Chimuras' three children, born and raised in North Korea, came to Japan in May 2004.

They have all now secured employment and are self-reliant.

The couple's oldest daughter, Emi, is 31 and their eldest son, Yasuhiko, is 29. Both are still living with their parents in their family home in Obama.

The couple's youngest son, Kiyoshi, 24, who landed a sales job with a firm in the city of Fukui last year after graduating from a university, was transferred last April to a branch in Nagoya.

Close acquaintances said Yasushi Chimura often worries if his youngest son, a person of few words, is cut out to be a salesman, a job that entails business travel to other parts of Japan.

During the Bon holidays in August and other long weekends, the son usually returns to Obama and the family goes out together.

Shinji Morimoto, an elementary school classmate of Yasushi Chimura who campaigned to get the abductees repatriated, said he is relieved to see the family finally living a peaceful life in Obama.

"He now looks like an ordinary father who worries about his children's future," Morimoto, 57, said.

At the same time, "their hearts are still aching even now," Fukie Chimura's brother, Yuko Hamamoto, 83, said of the couple's despair that other abductees may still be languishing in North Korea.

When the couple appeared at a news conference Oct. 4 held ahead of the 10th anniversary of their repatriation, Yasushi Chimura said, "It is my dream and desire that the other victims too can return soon and live ordinary lives in Japan."

Similarly, thinking of the other abductees possibly still in North Korea, his wife said: "Everyone, don't give up. I hope you will do your best to stay in good spirits and make it through."

Morimoto still recalls vividly an encounter with Chimura's mother, Toshiko, who died at age 74 in April 2002, just half a year before the abductees' return to Japan.

Once when visiting Toshiko, who was bedridden and usually could barely move, she wept and clasped her hands in front of her face, as if pleading to Morimoto to bring her son back.

"I felt deep sorrow. Although Chimura indeed returned, he could not be reunited with his mother," Morimoto said. "With the relatives of the other abduction victims also aging, there is not much time left. No matter what, we must get all of them back from North Korea and let them (the families) be reunited."

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