What happened to Japanese who disappeared in 1970s?

Addressing the controversy over the disappearance of several Japanese citizens under mysterious circumstances in the 1970s, Dr. Patricia Steinhoff, professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii, will be holding a seminar at Portland State titled “Who Really Kidnapped Those Japanese to North Korea?”

Ken Ruoff, director for the Center for Japanese Studies and a professor at PSU, explains this “astonishing story” surfaced in the 1970s, when 11 Japanese citizens vanished without a trace. It is widely believed that the Japanese Red Army was responsible for the disappearances, working “hand-in-glove” with the Pyongyang’s dictatorial regime.

Amidst worsening relations with its neighbors, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sought to end his nation’s Cold War battle with Japan by confessing that agents had kidnapped Japanese men, women and children decades earlier. He said four victims were still alive and would be allowed to return home.

The admission, along with an apology from Kim, came during a daylong visit to Pyongyang, last year, by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. It was the first visit by a Japanese leader to the isolated communist state. Kim called the kidnappings “regrettable,” promised such actions “would never happen again” and said he had punished the abductors.

However, his apologetic claims are strongly rebutted by members of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, founded on April 13, 1998, and the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.

With the Japanese Police continuing to investigate, these groups contend the real reason for the alleged kidnapping was to train North Korean Secret Service agents to impersonate Japanese people. They further allege that these acts were a part of North Korea’s “International Espionage Program.” Many of the victims’ families believe that North Korea took their loved ones to steal their identities for international travel, to help train its spies in Japanese customs, or to be brainwashed and converted into spies themselves.

“With the news beginning to trickle in, it was learned that eight of the victims had died while still in North Korea,” Ruoff said. He also said some of the remaining survivors were indeed allowed to go back to Japan for a short term visit, while their family members were held under the 24-hour custody of Pyongyang. This was supposedly to ensure victims would keep their lips sealed about the administration’s clandestine doings, he said.

Even though this issue has been slightly overshadowed by Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear crisis, the families continue to voice their concerns over the fate of the remaining victims, with anger and determination, a news release said.

This presentation is sponsored by PSU’S Center for Japanese Studies with support from the Japan American Society of Oregon. It will be held at the Smith Memorial Student Union Multicultural Center, Room 228, Feb. 20 from 6-8 p.m.