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FEATURE: Repatriated abductee still awaiting mother's return from N. Korea.

NIIGATA, Japan, Oct. 20 Kyodo


On a late September evening, Hitomi Soga, one of the five abductees repatriated to Japan from North Korea in 2002, joined her daughter Mika and other local residents to watch a small Noh stage performance in her hometown on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan.

Sitting on straw matting spread outdoors, the mother and daughter chatted cheerfully with the others while enjoying local snacks. The two appeared to have fully blended into the community and gotten accustomed to their new life.

It has been almost eight years since Soga's American husband Charles Jenkins, 72, and their two North Korea-born daughters came to Japan to join her and live permanently in Sado.

Keigo Homma, Jenkins' interpreter, said, "Her expressions have softened (over the years). I guess it's because she has now gotten used to life here and due to the sense of security from being able to live together as a family."

During the 24 years she spent in North Korea since being abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 in the city of Sado, Niigata Prefecture, Soga was not allowed to use Japanese. As a result, even now the 53-year-old's e-mails are composed mostly with hiragana Japanese syllabaries and seldom with the more difficult kanji characters.

But when talking with her two grown-up daughters, Soga speaks in Japanese. Sometimes she even cracks a joke and laughs with others around her.

Yet, one thing that still weighs on her mind is the whereabouts of her mother Miyoshi, who remains missing after being abducted at age 46 together with Soga.

"My heart aches whenever I think about how she is doing," Soga said sorrowfully, as she took to the streets in Sado on Oct. 7 to gather signatures campaigning for the repatriation of other abductees who may still be alive in the reclusive country.

"I keep thinking about what I can do for my mother, but cannot come up with the answer," she said.

Soga said that while she continues to take part in such signature campaigns and give lectures to call for the return of the other victims, she tries to stay low-key, fearing her actions may jeopardize her mother's safety in North Korea.

Acquaintances revealed that every now and then, Soga would tell her family, "Mother worked very hard to bring me up. I want to see her. I want to be a dutiful daughter and take good care of her."

Soga's two daughters, 29-year-old Mika and 27-year-old Brinda, learned the Japanese language after arriving in 2004 and both are now working on the island.

Mika accomplished her dream of becoming a nursery school teacher, while Brinda works at a local Japanese sake brewery.

The brewery's president Takeshi Hirashima, 48, had worried that, due to her unique background, tourists might consider Brinda something of a spectacle.

But as it turns out, Brinda, who has already been in the job for four years, has had no problems carrying out her duties and interacts smoothly with customers in fluent Japanese when manning the shop's sake sampling and promotion corner.

Meanwhile, Jenkins, a former U.S. soldier who deserted to North Korea in 1965, currently works at the souvenir shop in a museum on Sado's local history. While the language barrier remains his weak point, Jenkins responds positively to requests from many visitors to take photos with him, while also encouraging them to pick up a few souvenir items.

On his days off, Jenkins enjoys riding on his motorbike and farming, he said.

Together with two dogs they bought in 2009 -- a Labrador retriever named Bisuko and a Chihuahua named Moomin, the family now lives a peaceful life.

But Soga, who has been working at a home for the elderly in Sado since 2007, is still waiting for the return of her mother Miyoshi, whom she has not seen in 34 years. Miyoshi would be 80 years old already now.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Oct 22, 2012
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