Megumi Yokota (横田 めぐみ Yokota Megumi ) (born 5 October 1964, died (allegedly) 13 March 1994 or 14 December 2004) was one of at least 17 Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The North Korean government has admitted to kidnapping Yokota, but has said that she died in captivity. Yokota's parents and others in Japan believe that Yokota is still alive in North Korea and have waged a public campaign seeking her return to Japan.
Yokota was abducted on November 15, 1977 at the age of thirteen while walking home from school in her seaside village in Niigata Prefecture. North Korean agents reportedly dragged her into a boat and took her straight to North Korea, where she was apparently forced to help train North Korean spies to pass as Japanese citizens. In January 1997, information about Megumi's abduction was disclosed to Yokota's parents by Tatsukichi Hyomoto by a phone call. In 2002, North Korea admitted that she and others had been abducted, but claimed that she had committed suicide on March 13, 1994 (originally announced as 1993 and later corrected to 1994) and returned what it said were her cremated remains. Japan stated that a DNA test proved they could not have been her remains, and her family does not believe that she would have committed suicide. She is believed to have been abducted by Sin Gwang-su.
In the North in 1986, Yokota married a South Korean national, Kim Young-nam (Korean: 김영남, Hanja: 金英男), likely also abducted, and the couple had a daughter in 1987, Kim Hye-gyong (김혜경, whose real name was later revealed to be Kim Eun-gyong, 김은경). In June 2006, Kim Young-nam, who has since remarried, was allowed to have his family from the South visit him, and during the reunion he confirmed Yokota had committed suicide in 1994 after suffering from mental illness, and had had several attempts at suicide before. He also claimed the remains returned in 2004 are genuine. His comments were however widely dismissed as repeating the official Pyongyang line, with Megumi's father claiming that Young-nam was not allowed to speak freely during his interview in Pyongyang, stating that "he was likely restricted in terms of what he can say" and that "it looked as if he were reading a script". In June 2012, Choi Seong Ryong, head of a support group for relatives of South Koreans abducted to the North, said that he had obtained North Korean government documents which stated that Yokota had died from "depression" on 14 December 2004.
It is widely believed, especially in Japan, that Yokota is still alive. In November 2011 a South Korean magazine, Weekly Chosun, stated that a 2005 directory of Pyongyang residents listed a woman, named Kim Eun Gong, with the same birth date as Yokota. The directory gave Kim's spouse's name as "Kim Yong Nam". Japanese government sources verified on 18 November 2011 that they had reviewed the directory but had yet to draw a conclusion on the identity of the woman listed. Sources later indicated that Kim Eun Gong was actually Yokota's 24 year-old daughter. In 2012, it was reported that North Korean authorities were keeping Kim under strict surveillance. In August 2012, Choi Seong Ryong stated that sources in North Korea had told him that Kim Eun Gong had been placed under the supervision of Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yeo Jong, and that the North Korean government may be planning on using Yokota's daughter as a "card" in future negotiations with Japan. Reportedly, in 2010 the North Korean government offered to allow Yokota's parents to visit Kim Eun Gyong in a country "other than Japan" but the Japanese government and Yokota's parents were wary about the offer, suspecting it as a ploy by the North Korean government to seek an advantage in ongoing diplomatic negotiations.
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An interview in the 3 February 2005 issue of Nature revealed that the DNA analysis on Megumi's remains had been performed by a member of the medical department of Teikyo University, Yoshii Tomio. Yoshii, it later transpired, was a relatively junior faculty member, of lecturer status, in a forensic department that had neither a professor nor even an assistant professor. He said that he had no previous experience in the analysis of cremated specimens, described his tests as inconclusive, and remarked that such samples were very easily contaminated by anyone coming in contact with them, like "stiff sponges that can absorb anything". The five tiny samples he had been given to work on (the largest of them 1.5 grams) had anyway been used up in his laboratory, so independent verification was thereafter impossible.
When the Japanese government's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hiroyuki Hosoda, referred to this article as inadequate and a misrepresentation of the government-commissioned analysis, Nature responded in an editorial (17 March), saying that:
"Japan is right to doubt North Korea's every statement. But its interpretation of the DNA tests has crossed the boundary of science's freedom from political interference. Nature's interview with the scientist who carried out the tests raised the possibility that the remains were merely contaminated, making the DNA tests inconclusive. This suggestion is uncomfortable for a Japanese government that wants to have North Korea seen as unambiguously fraudulent. ...
The inescapable fact is that the bones may have been contaminated. ... It is also entirely possible that North Korea is lying. But the DNA tests that Japan is counting on won't resolve the issue. The problem is not in the science but in the fact that the government is meddling in scientific matters at all. Science runs on the premise that experiments, and all the uncertainty involved in them, should be open for scrutiny. Arguments made by other Japanese scientists that the tests should have been carried out by a larger team are convincing. Why did Japan entrust them to one scientist working alone, one who no longer seems to be free to talk about them?
Japan's policy seems a desperate effort to make up for what has been a diplomatic failure ... Part of the burden for Japan's political and diplomatic failure is being shifted to a scientist for doing his job—deriving conclusions from experiments and presenting reasonable doubts about them. But the friction between North Korea and Japan will not be decided by a DNA test. Likewise, the interpretation of DNA test results cannot be decided by the government of either country. Dealing with North Korea is no fun, but it doesn't justify breaking the rules of separation between science and politics."
Documentaries made about Megumi and the other kidnapping cases include: KIDNAPPED! The Japan-North Korea Abduction Cases (2005), Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story (2006), Megumi (2007), and Megumi (2008). In October 2006 a special aired on Japan television titled Reunion ~ Megumi Yokota's Wish (Saikai ~Yokota Megumi-san no Negai~; 再会～横田めぐみさんの願い). It starred Mayuko Fukuda as a young Yokota, and Nana Katase as grown Yokota.
Yokota's parents supervised the creation of a serial manga, one titled Megumi (めぐみ) detailing her last days in Japan before her abduction, and another titled Dakkan about returned victim Kaoru Hasuike. The Japanese government produced an anime adaption of the manga.
In 2010, the Shinjuku Theater has performed a stage adaptation of Megumi's life called "The Pledge to Megumi" (めぐみへの誓い) The main storyline centers on Megumi Yokota before and during her abduction by North Korea, and with a fictional ending where Megumi is reunited with her parents.
Songs for Megumi
In early 2007, Paul Stookey (of U.S. folk group Peter, Paul and Mary) introduced a song dedicated to Megumi. Titled "Song for Megumi", Stookey toured Japan to sing the song in February and attended media interviews with the Yokota parents.
In 2010, Peter Frampton, a British rock singer who broke records in the 1970s, recorded two songs about Megumi Yokota after watching the documentary Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story on PBS. Titled "Asleep at the Wheel" and "Suite Liberte", the songs are part of his latest album, Thank You, Mr. Churchill.
In 2006, Nippon Television (NTV) aired Saikai -Yokota Megumi-san no Negai- (再会 ~横田めぐみさんの願い~ Reunion ~Yokota Megumi's Wish~) a television film about the life of Megumi Yokota. The movie starred Fukuda Mayuko and Katase Nana as Yokota during different periods in her life.
- Movie Review - Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story Efilmcritic, April 23, 2006.
- Families of missing Japanese angry at US - North Korea deal The Daily Telegraph, October 18, 2008.
- Parental love versus Kim Jong-il Asia Times, April 29, 2009.
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- Kyodo News, "Yokota died in 2004, not 1994 as Pyongyang claims: South activist", Japan Times, 16 June 2012, p. 2
- Jiji Press, "Abductee Megumi Yokota said alive in 2005: report", Japan Times, 8 November 2011, p. 2.
- Kyodo News, "'05 Pyongyang data Yokota-linked", Japan Times, 19 November 2011, p. 2
- Jiji Press, "Yokota daughter 'watched' in North", Japan Times, 31 May 2012, p. 2
- Kyodo News, "Yokota daughter entrusted to Kim Jong Un's sister?", Japan Times, 28 August 2012, p. 1
- Kyodo News, "Pyongyang offered to let Yokota's daughter go in '10, but not to Japan", Japan Times, 30 May 2013, p. 2
- download site of the anime by the Japanese government
- "Tokyo ‘Hiding Knowledge of Megumi Yokota’s Death’", The Chosun Ilbo, August 17, 2006.
- "Until The Day We Sing Together", mylessenex.com, March 24, 2003.
- "Accounted For, At Last", Time (Asia), September 24, 2002.
- "Clues Found in North Korean Kidnappings", The Dong-a Ilbo, January 7, 2006.
- "U.S. folk star writes song about abductee Yokota", The Japan Times, February 16, 2007.
- "Parental love versus Kim Jong-il", By Kosuke Takahashi of Asia Times Online, April 28, 2009.
- ABDUCTION: The Megumi Yokota Story site for Independent Lens on PBS
- Blogs.wsj.com, Peter Frampton records two songs for Megumi
- KIDNAPPED! The Japan-North Korea Abduction Cases Interview with director Melissa K. Lee
- Until They Took Her Away
- "Megumi Yokota seen alive 2 months after N. Korea said she had died". Mainichi Shimbun. May 26, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-05-27. Retrieved 2008-05-26.