Thinking About Megumi

Watching clips of the irrepressible Kanye West grabbing a microphone to hijack some narrative or another, I thought about Megumi Yokota [横田めぐみ].  Like Kanye, Megumi’s story has grown beyond anyone’s ability to control.  It fills Japanese newschannels and magazines, and serves as a crucial pillar in Japan’s own narrative of having been exploited and disrespected by North Korea.

North Korea will be accepting no awards from MTV; the Japanese media has occupied the microphone in any case.

Sakie Yokota, mother of Japanese kidnap victim Megumi Yokota, testifies before a House committee on Capitol Hill in this April 27, 2006 file photo as Koh Myung-sup, a South Korean abductee, listens at right. Holding up photos of her daughter is her son Takuya Yokota. / AP-Yonhap

Sakie Yokota, mother of Japanese kidnap victim Megumi Yokota, testifies before a House committee on Capitol Hill in this April 27, 2006 file photo as Koh Myung-sup, a South Korean abductee, listens at right. Holding up photos of her daughter is her son Takuya Yokota. / AP-Yonhap

And yet, subsequent mobilization around the issue of Megumi’s abduction helps to fill a void in Japanese life.  The loss of community feelings and the growth of individualistic alienation can be assuaged through participation in a social movement commemorating Megumi’s plight.  And in a society with a plunging birthrate and an uncertain future, her story (as told by her faithful parents) reminds Japan of the importance of family life, filial piety, and the responsibilities and love which parents lavish upon their children.

Missing Person of the Cold War: Liberation Report on Megumi Yokota

The following article is a stub; translation of the complete article should be posted in a few hours’ time. –A.C.  More to follow….

Arnaud Vaulerin, “Japan. Disparu de la Guerre Froide [Japan: Disappeared in the Cold War],” Liberation, 11 March 2009.

Megumi Yokota, following the example of a dozen Japanese, was kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s: Her case continues to poison the relations between the two states.


Ils sont assis sur le bord du canapé, droits et soudés. Sur la table basse ornant le hall de leur immeuble cossu de Kawasaki, à une trentaine de kilomètres au sud de Tokyo, ils ont posé deux dossiers bleus. Sakie et Shigeru Yokota y rangent toutes les images de leur fille Megumi. Des clichés jaunis côtoient des photos aux couleurs vives, seules traces de leur aînée, enlevée à l’âge de 13 ans par des espions nord-coréens. Trente-deux ans plus tard, les jeunes parents sont devenus des septuagénaires «fatigués», qui n’ont pourtant «pas perdu espoir» de revoir leur fille. Depuis cette nuit d’automne, ils n’ont cessé de frapper à toutes les portes, passant, au gré des recherches, de l’exaltation la plus vive au plus profond abattement.

They sit on the edge of the sofa, hands welded together. On the coffee table decorating the hall of their opulent home in Kawasaki, about thirty kilometers south of Tokyo, they lay out two blue files. There, Sakie and Shigeru Yokota tidily arrange all the images of their daughter Megumi. Yellowed pictures go alongside photos in lively colors, the only traces of their elder daughter, kidnapped at the age of 13 by North Korean spies. Thirty-two years later, these young parents have became tired septuagenarians.  “Nevertheless,” they say,  “[we have] not lost hope ” to see their daughter again. On this night of the Japanese autumn, they knock ceaselessly on all the doors, amid many passer-by, moving through this search into the most living ecstasy and the most profound dejection.


L’histoire de Megumi aurait pu rester un tragique fait divers. Mais sa disparition – et celle de onze autres Japonais kidnappés par Pyongyang dans les années 70-80 – est devenue une cause nationale brandie par Tokyo de sommets internationaux en visites d’Etat. Après des décennies de silence, c’est un battage continu. Dans ce pays qui dévore des mangas par millions, le gouvernement a fait réaliser une BD sur l’histoire de la jeune fille, suivie d’un dessin animé en 2008. La mère de Megumi vient de faire traduire en anglais un livre de souvenirs sur sa longue quête. La télévision NHK a reçu des injonctions pour multiplier les reportages sur ses chaînes. Chaque année en décembre, a lieu une «semaine des disparus». Et un ruban bleu les commémorant a été dessiné, aux couleurs de la Mer du Japon qui sépare l’archipel de la Corée du Nord.

The history of Megumi could have remained a tragedy apart.  But this disappearence — and that of the 12 other Japanaese kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s — has become a national cause brandished by Tokyo in international summits and state visits.  After decades of silence, it is a battle that continues.

In this state which devours manga by the millions, the government has created a BD [bande desinée / comic book] of the history of this young girl, followed by an animated film [anime / dessin animé] in 2008.  (Translator’s note: the manga was published by Futabasha in Tokyo.)

Megumi’s mother has written a book about her long quest, and had it translated into English.  NHK television receives injunctions to multiply reportage of the book via its network affiliates.  Every year in December, a “Week for the Disappeared” takes place.  And blue ribbons commemorate, drawn with the colors of the Sea of Japan which separates the archipelago from North Korea.

Missile Tests

Of the seventy Japanese which Tokyo accuses Japan of abducting, only five returned in 2002.

This case has passed well beyond the first step of contentious bilateral issues.  It perturbs the discussions on North Korean denuclearization, paralyszes the nornalisation of relations between the tyo states and reveals the errors of Japanese diplomacy.

Mid-February in Tokyo, on her first trip abroad as chief American diplomat, Hillary clinton demanded that the communist regime resolve the problem, afterwords stating that “the question of kidnapping should be part of the Six-Party Talks; this case has a better chance of advancing if it is integrated with global discussions.”  No matter how full her agenda, Barack Obama’s Secretary of State uses her time to meet the kin of the disappeared, most notably the mother of Megumi.

Additional resources: This VOA report on “Abduction” describes an American documentary about Megumi Yokota’s case shown in Paris.    Megumi’s mother has written a book about her experience; it is now available in English.  Joshua Stanton, about the most staunchly anti-North Korean human rights Republican Washington D.C. Jewish deist former U.S. Army prosecutor I know, gives some analysis of the book on his incomparable One Free Korea blog.  Both the Washington Post and Asia Times report on Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Megumi’s mother.

On Megumi Yokota: Doggerel One

Japan is hatin’ on DPRK
Koizumi’s plume done led the way
When Kim abducted you say?
The DPRK gotta send Megumi home.//
//But they said she killed herself in a fit of despair
Her parents want ashes, yet Kim forswear
Apologies and memories mingle up with force
Like a mini-submarine rising off the Niigata coast//
//KCNA drops bombs while J-pop drops beats oblivious
Tumescent and lugubrious, the peasants plant peat
outside the port of Wonson, where ships await
trawlers, refugees returning from Manchurian food forays