WASHINGTON, March 5 (UPI) -- Toru Hasuike should have thrilled at the prospect of seeing his younger brother Kaoru last October for the first time in 24 years. Instead the nuclear engineer, who lives in Tokyo, said he looked forward to their reunion with trepidation.
"I saw a videotape of him two weeks before he came back to Japan, and I wondered whether it was my brother," Hasuike said. "He looked fatigued, very tired. I was afraid of meeting him."
Kaoru Hasuike and his wife, Yukiko Okudo, are two of about a dozen Japanese who North Korea admitted to having kidnapped during the late 1970s and early 80s. Reversing years of denials and even a walk-out in negotiations to discuss the issue -- one whose resolution Japan has set as a precondition to diplomatic ties and economic aid to North Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il made the stunning disclosure at a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2002.
The men and women, mostly in their early 20s and as young as 13, were abducted to work in North Korean spy schools as translators and teachers, coaching intelligence operatives who could pass as Japanese in the language and customs.
Toru Hasuike remembers Kaoru, then a 20-year-old student of law at Chuo University, as "carefree," he told United Press International during an interview in Washington.
"He used to play baseball games. He liked to play mah-jong," a traditional Chinese game of tiles. Kaoru, who is laughing in a photograph taken shortly before his abduction and shown to UPI, had also recently gotten engaged to his girlfriend Yukiko.
It was with Yukiko, a cosmetician, whom he was strolling on the evening of July 31, 1978. In an account that Toru learned only after 24 years of silence about his brother's fate, the couple met up at a shopping center in Kashiwazaki City, the family's hometown, for a seaside walk. Other couples had the same idea, and Kaoru and Yukiko headed farther down the beach to be alone.
"My brother remembered a couple of strange guys looking at them. They came up, asked for a light for a cigarette, and then punched him three times," said Toru. "Then they put them in sacks right on the beach and waited for a rubber boat to take them to a bigger ship." The two were taken across the Sea of Japan to Chongjin, a northern port on North Korea's east shore.
Kaoru and his now-wife Yukiko speak little of their experience in the isolated Stalinist country, Toru said. North Korea allowed them to return to Japan for a visit but not their daughter and son -- who are about the same age now as their parents were when they were kidnapped -- and the Hasuikes are afraid the Pyongyang government will punish their children for any comments they make.
Japanese advocacy groups have identified 22 nationals who they say have been either confirmed or were very likely kidnapped by the North Koreans. Five, the Hasuikes among them, were allowed to return for a two-week visit to Japan in October and have stayed on. Eight others died over the years, the North Koreans declared, and there it stands.
Two groups, the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea and the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, are in Washington this week to ask the United States to make their cause a central point of any negotiation with North Korea.
At least seven children of kidnap victims are trapped in North Korea, offspring that Japan recognizes as Japanese citizens. Pyongyang has ignored requests for information about nine others who disappeared from Japan under suspicious circumstances, and has given what the advocacy groups describe as a "trumped-up story and blatantly faked documents" about the eight other Japanese that North Korea say are dead.
Teruaki Masumoto's sister is among that eight. Rumiko and her fiancé Shuichi were also kidnapped as a couple, less than two weeks after the Hasuikes. Unlike Toru Hasuike, he had no story of abduction to tell. Instead he showed documents that he and other members of the advocacy delegation say are clearly fakes.
The Masumotos' marriage certificate appears signed by both but lists the wrong birth dates, he said. Both say October 27; one 1953 and the other 1954 -- and significantly, he added, Ichikawa's birth date on the certificate matches the incorrect one the Japanese government recently released.
Masumoto also displayed copies of death certificates, including those of his sister and brother-in-law, that he said the North Koreans called proof of their deaths. Apparently they both died of heart attacks in their 30s.
"But although several died in different places and on different dates, (the certificates) are issued by the same hospital," he said through an interpreter. "And look" -- holding two up to the light -- "the stamps overlap." Indeed, an official stampmark showed the identical half-moon at the same angle and location on the certificates.
Reverting to English, Masumoto declared, "If she really died, they would not need to fake the documents." He believes his sister is still alive. And until he knows her fate he, like other family members of kidnap victims, wears a blue ribbon -- to symbolize the blue sky and blue sea that separates them from their loved ones, he said.