Amended at 22:45 KST to include an updated comment from Japan’s foreign ministry
Only one Japanese “remainder” now survives in North Korea, the Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based pro-Pyongyang newspaper, reported on Wednesday.
The newspaper, which is the official mouthpiece of the pro-North Korean Chongryon group but does not represent the view of the North Korean government, said that of all the Japanese citizens left in the North after World War Two, only one is alive.
Japan and North Korea agreed to conduct a “comprehensive and full-scale investigation” on Japanese nationals in the North at the Japan-North Korea Intergovernmental Consultations held in Stockholm in May 2014.
The Special Investigation Committee conducted its investigation between July and August in 2014 through an extensive tour of the DPRK.
“Seven of them died while the Japanese government turned away [the issue] and of the remaining Japanese who has survived until now is only one person,” Choson Sinbo said.
The 84-year-old survivor – who was born on January 19 in 1933 – is known as Ruriko Arai (荒井琉璃子), AKA Ri Yu Gum (리유금) in Korean, and was interviewed by Japanese media in Pyongyang this April.
Arai’s parents came from Japan’s southern prefecture of Kumamoto. She was born in Seoul when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule, but after the war, she was separated from her parents when they were returning to Japan and was adopted by a woman in Hamhung, North Korea.
The investigation has been put on hold since February last year, when the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced that the Special Investigation Committee had been “dissolved.”
Pyongyang blamed Japan’s decision to “make the first move to take unilateral sanctions apart from the UN sanctions against the DPRK” for the suspension of the investigation, arguing that the measures included the “re-effectuation of those sanctions which Japan partially lifted under the May 2014 DPRK-Japan inter-governmental Stockholm agreement.”
Japan’s decision to implement the sanctions followed Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test on January 6 and the test-launch of a long-range rocket on February 7 that year.
“The issue of the remaining Japanese person – which is one of the postwar issues that Japan ought to take responsibility for – becomes the problem that needs to be resolved urgently,” Choson Sinbo said.
“We are aware of the media report that you pointed out, but we don’t comment on each case,” a spokesperson for the international press division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan told NK News in an email interview.
“In any case, the government recognizes the issue of war-displaced Japanese people as one to be addressed from a humanitarian perspective. Based on the Stockholm agreement the government will continue to make utmost efforts to solve every issue related to the Japanese people.”
The Chongryon mouthpiece also gave details on the deceased, quoting Cho Hui Sung, a senior researcher at the Institute of Japanese Studies in Pyongyang and a worker at a department dealing with the remains of Japanese citizens in North Korea.
“The remainders [in North Korea] and their families staying in Japan expect that the problem – which has been neglected – will be resolved in accordance with the agreement,” the newspaper quoted Cho as saying.
Setsuko Maruyama (丸山節子), AKA Kim Jong Hui (김정희), who was born on January 12 in 1929, passed away in January 2015, Choson Sinbo said, adding she lived in North Hamgyong Province’s Chongjin City.
Before her death, she showed a postcard sent from her younger brother Toru Maruyama in Japan to Cho, and was reportedly tearful when she heard news of her mother’s death.
The newspaper said Cho had reported that “most of the remaining Japanese, including her, died in the end before meeting their families”.
Researcher Cho also said Yoshio Takasu (鷹栖咸雄), AKA Mae Ham Woong (매함웅), had died in June 2015 at the age of 78. Cho said his mother had come to the North to meet her son when she was 80 years old.
World War Two and the subsequent division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 saw an unknown number of children left behind in North Korea by Japanese relatives.
It is estimated that about 35,000 people were left behind, but the exact figure is not known.
They are not the only Japanese citizens in North Korea who have been prevented from returning home. Tokyo maintains that there were “a string of incidents involving the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea” between 1977 and 1983, and has identified 17 Japanese citizens as having been abducted by the DPRK.
Five of the abductees were repatriated in October 2002, one month after the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and former Japanse Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
In February the administration of Shinzo Abe adopted a new resolution calling for the immediate return of Japanese nationals “kidnapped” by North Korea.
One Japanese expert said the announcement may be an effort to mend ties.
“By disclosing information this time, the North may want to break the ice to improve Japan-North Korea relations,” Hideshi Takesada, a professor at Takushoku University and North Korea expert, said.
Takesada said North Korea’s revival of its foreign affairs committee at the Supreme People’s Assembly on April 11 might be a sign of willingness to have talks with the U.S. and Japan.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: Pyongyang Haze by m•o•m•o on 2012-03-10 01:55:36