This article originally appeared in the Sankei Shimbun morning edition, September 2, 2012. All ages and dates are counted from that date.
In 2004, North Korea handed over what it claimed were the remains of Megumi Yokota. By that time, nearly two years had passed since then-Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il had admitted that Megumi had been abducted and apologized for it at a Japan-North Korea summit. Incidentally, the date on which the remains were delivered was 27th anniversary of the day that Megumi had been abducted along the coast of Niigata by North Korean agents.
Megumi’s younger brother, Takuya, reflected that “Before we went to hear anything from the government, we as a family all agreed not to forget the possibility that a group who wanted to say that Megumi Yokota was dead might be trying a deception and coming up with any excuse they could think of.” Megumi’s mother, Sakie (pictured above with Megumi's father, Shigeru), also related that “I was handed a small box by a high-ranking official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I held it for a moment, but then quickly gave it back. The official asked if it would be alright if they could conduct some tests, to which I immediately replied, ‘Shouldn’t you already know the answer to that?’”
Though it was assumed that the DNA test would prove that the remains were Megumi’s, even inconclusive results could support the impression that Megumi had died, making the test a pivotal moment in the history of the abduction cases. For the test, Sakie and her family submitted Megumi’s umbilical cord which they had kept securely at their home in a small paulownia box.
♦ ♦ ♦
The delivery of the remains that North Korea claimed to belong to Megumi was actually the second time that the North Koreans had presented the “remains” of an abductee who had “died”— a Japanese government survey team received a set of bones reported to be the remains of Kaoru Matsuki immediately following a summit between the leaders of Japan and North Korea.
The bones had been burnt on two separate occasions and then broken into powder, likely with a hammer. The intent, apparently, was to render DNA testing impossible. However, a section of the jawbone remained, and a skeletal test showed that the bones belonged to a middle aged woman (Matsuki was male).
But with Megumi’s supposed remains, North Korea plotted its biggest scheme yet. The bones that the North Koreans claimed were Megumi’s were scorched at 1,200 degrees, much hotter than typical for funerary cremations, with the likely intent, again, being to impede DNA testing. But time, the bones were broken up into so fine a dust that it was impossible to tell which bones were which. It seems that the North Koreans assumed this would make testing impossible.
Yet Japanese authorities were able to carry out the DNA test and readily came to the conclusion that “the bones belong to two different people, neither of whom is Megumi and the myth of her death promptly collapsed. Sakie remembers thinking, “How can we let ourselves be manipulated by such a country as North Korea?”
♦ ♦ ♦
The North Koreans apparently assumed that because the Japanese were incapable of performing DNA tests on the bones, they reached the conclusion that the bones belonged to someone else based solely on skeletal examinations. In fact, DNA testing was done on the bones that North Korea claimed were Matsuki’s, but intentionally refrained from publicizing that at the time even though DNA testing supported the conclusion that the bones belonged to someone other than Matsuki. By playing their cards close against their vest, North Korean’s plot was exposed.
A police official said “As time passed following the Japan-North Korea summit, some within the Japanese government began to grow soft towards North Korea. But when it was shown that Megumi’s remains were faked, Japan knew North Korea’s mendacity for a fact, and that permissive mood evaporated completely.”
After it was shown that they remains they had provided were fake, the North Koreans responded to a few more meeting requests with Japan, but this time had readopted the position that the abduction issue had been fully resolved, apparently running out of explanations after their ruse had been exposed. From that point until the meeting at the end of August, North Korea avoided official contact for four years’ time.