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Abducted: The Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

Letters to Megumi: Longing to Hear You Say 'Mother' Again

After her husband's passing four years ago, Sakie Yokota continues to fight for the return of her daughter Megumi, who was abducted by North Korea 46 years ago.



Megumi Yokota's mother, Sakie Yokota and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno visit a photo exhibition with memorabilia and photos of Megumi Yokota, a victim of North Korea's abductions, on August 2, 2023. At the Nihonbashi Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo. (Pool photo)

Dear Megumi,

As June arrives, Japan shifts from the gentle days of spring to the early signs of summer. June 5th marked four years since your father passed away. He always longed to see you.

Though he's no longer with us, I still feel his presence. Each morning, I greet his smiling portrait with a "good morning," sharing the day's events and offering flowers and his favorite sake.

When I speak to him about you and the other abductees, I feel overwhelmed with helplessness and frustration. "Progress is so slow. How will we resolve this?" I ask him. Negotiations between countries are beyond ordinary people like us — all we can do is pray.

A baby Megumi Yokota and her father, Shigeru, touching cheeks in 1965.

A Cycle of Frustration

Lately, there's been talk of North Korea showing a softer stance. On New Year's Day, after the Noto Peninsula earthquake, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un sent a telegram to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. There were hints of a possible Japan-North Korea summit.

Yet, North Korea suddenly refused to negotiate, reminding me once more they're not an easy counterpart. 

Resolving the abduction issue has been a cycle of despair and frustration.

The first Japan-North Korea summit took place in September 2002. During that time, your father and I felt the positive force of politics like never before. However, North Korea claimed that you were dead, even presenting a fabricated death certificate and false remains.

About ten years ago, in May 2014, North Korea promised to reinvestigate abductions under the Stockholm Agreement, yet nothing came of it. This wasn't the only time a glimmer of hope faded away like dew.

An old photo of the Yokota family.

An Appeal from the Heart

I hold onto a faint hope for current Japan-North Korea relations, wishing for a gentler sentiment to develop between Prime Minister Kishida and Kim Jong Un compared to the past.

I earnestly hope the Japanese government will negotiate resolutely, without being swayed by North Korea's behavior. We must not lower our demand for the immediate return of all victims. I wish this from the bottom of my heart.

At the national rally in May, I appealed directly to Kim Jong Un with such a loud voice that it surprised even me. I said, "Please, change your heart. Return all the victims in North Korea to their parents. Change your heart so that everyone, including your children, can live together in peace."

I hadn't decided what to say until the moment I stepped onto the stage. The words came from my heart suddenly.

The elderly parents of abduction victims are passing away one after another. We are getting fewer opportunities to appeal to the public. But despite these circumstances, I felt that I could reach Kim Jong Un as a fellow parent and human being. It was with this thought that I spoke those words.

Sakie Yokota and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida both spoke at the national rally calling for the immediate repatriation of all abductees. May 11 in Tokyo. (©Sankei by Masahiro Sakai)

A New Policy

Despite promising to resolve the abduction issue within my generation, it now passes to our children.

During this year's Golden Week holiday, your brother Takuya went to the United States seeking support from officials and congress members toward the abduction issue.

In 2024, the families' association and the abductee rescue association introduced a new policy approach. If all the abductees are returned to Japan while their parents' generation is still alive, we will not oppose Japan providing humanitarian aid or lifting exclusively Japanese sanctions.

Looking back, we had long advocated for the continued enforcement of sanctions. Takuya conveyed to the United States officials the weighty decision involved in changing our stance. It stemmed from the undeniable reality that victims' parents, including myself, are aging rapidly.

During his meetings, Takuya shared a recent photo of me, saying, "There is very little time left to achieve the goal of reuniting victims and their families." By showing the photo of his 88-year-old mother, Takuya tried his best to convey this harsh reality.

In a press conference, Takuya Yokota (center), the brother of abductee Megumi Yokota and the representative of AFVKN, presents a photo of their mother Saki Yokota on April 30, Washington. (©Kyodo)

Before the Flame Goes Out

In 2023, I suffered severe fatigue and poor health, but my recovery has been smooth. Recently, I've been approaching each day with renewed energy and a positive mindset. However, nobody's flame of life burns forever.

Japan has faced numerous challenges, like the pandemic, natural disasters, economic downturns, and political distrust. Yet, even in these difficult times, I hope Japanese citizens won't forget that there are children in faraway North Korea who continue to look up at the sky and wish to return home.

Your father, Shigeru, was an ordinary man who passed away without seeing justice. In his final moments, I remember telling him with strong assurance: "You'll be going to heaven. Wait for me there."

Your father was always fair and sincere to everyone. I hope to fulfill his will of resolving the abduction issue before we are reunited in heaven.

I urge the Japanese government to heed our pleas seriously. With the determination to bring back all victims, I ask the government to move the situation forward as quickly as possible. We must develop a clear strategy, convey it to North Korea as our unwavering will, and act decisively.

I am so sorry for making you wait through such a long and painful time. Though I am quite old now, I promise to live each day without giving up hope until I hear you call me "mother" again. Please take care of yourself and stay healthy.


(Read the letter in Japanese.)

Author: Sakie Yokota

Sakie Yokota is the mother of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977. Sakie has been campaigning for her daughter's release with her family. Her husband passed away in 2020.