EXPLAINER: Why were Japanese abducted by North Korea?

May 22, 2022, 6:23 PM | Updated: May 23, 2022, 6:15 pm
Sakie Yokota, left, and other families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago, at...

Sakie Yokota, left, and other families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago, attend a press conference in Tokyo, after they met U.S. President Joe Biden, Monday, May 23, 2022. The families said Biden talked to each of them and listened to their stories, encouraging them as their hopes were fading because of North Korea's escalating missiles and nuclear development. (Kyodo News via AP)

(Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden met Monday with families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago to show his support for their efforts to win the return of their loved ones.

The families said Biden talked to each of them and listened to their stories, encouraging them as their hopes were fading because of North Korea’s escalating development of missiles and nuclear devices.


Japan says North Korea abducted at least 17 Japanese citizens, possibly many more, during the 1970s and 1980s. Twelve remain missing.

They include school children and others living along Japan’s coast. Many were bundled into small boats and taken across the sea to North Korea.


North Korea apparently wanted them to train spies in Japanese language and culture, or to steal their identities so agents could masquerade as Japanese for espionage aimed mainly at South Korea.

After admitting in 2002 that it had abducted 13 Japanese, North Korea apologized and allowed five to return home. It said eight others had died and denied that the other four entered its territory. It has promised a reinvestigation, but has never announced the results.

Japan says North Korea has refused to send the others home because of concern that they might reveal inconvenient information about the country.


Koichiro Iizuka, 45, whose mother was abducted in 1978 and was raised by his uncle, said he was “grateful that President Biden sincerely listened to each of our stories” and promised his support.

Sakie Yokota, 86, whose 13-year-old daughter, Megumi, was abducted in 1977 from Japan’s northern coast on her way home from school, said Biden kneeled down to listen to her and told her that as a parent who has lost two children he understands her pain. “That really cheered me up,” said Yokota, whose husband died two years ago. “I asked the president for his support so that all of us can have our loved ones back.”

Her son, Takuya Yokota, who heads the group of abductees’ families, said Biden’s show of solidarity gave courage to the families and also highlighted North Korea’s human rights violations.


Japan’s government has made the issue a political priority and has demanded that North Korea immediately return all the remaining abductees. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions, but there has been no progress.

Many elderly relatives say they’re running out of time to see their loved ones.

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties, and eforts to resolve the issue have largely stalled for nearly a decade due to the North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and Japan’s imposition of sanctions in response. World War II compensation issues between the two sides also remain unresolved.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


File - People shop at an Apple store in the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jerse...
Associated Press

A key inflation gauge tracked by the Fed slowed in February

The Federal Reserve's favored inflation gauge slowed sharply last month, an encouraging sign in the Fed's yearlong effort to cool price pressures through steadily higher interest rates.
2 days ago
FILE - The OpenAI logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen displaying output fr...
Associated Press

Musk, scientists call for halt to AI race sparked by ChatGPT

Are tech companies moving too fast in rolling out powerful artificial intelligence technology that could one day outsmart humans?
3 days ago
Associated Press

Starbucks leader grilled by Senate over anti-union actions

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz faced sharp questioning Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
4 days ago
FILE - The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public H...
Associated Press

FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan; here’s what it means

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved selling naloxone without a prescription, the first over-the-counter opioid treatment.
4 days ago
FILE - A Seattle police officer walks past tents used by people experiencing homelessness, March 11...
Associated Press

Seattle, feds seek to end most oversight of city’s police

  SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department and Seattle officials asked a judge Tuesday to end most federal oversight of the city’s police department, saying its sustained, decade-long reform efforts are a model for other cities whose law enforcement agencies face federal civil rights investigations. Seattle has overhauled virtually all aspects of its police […]
5 days ago
capital gains tax budgets...
Associated Press

Washington moves to end child sex abuse lawsuit time limits

People who were sexually abused as children in Washington state may soon be able to bring lawsuits against the state, schools or other institutions for failing to stop the abuse, no matter when it happened.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
EXPLAINER: Why were Japanese abducted by North Korea?