TOKYO – A 13-year-old schoolgirl walking home after badminton practice. A 28-year-old restaurant employee sent by his boss to Vienna. A young couple on a date, driving to the beach to see the sunset. They are among at least 17 Japanese — possibly many more than that — who were abducted by North Korea more than three decades ago.
The apparent reasons included training agents in Japanese language and social norms, or stealing identities so the agents could masquerade as Japanese for espionage and terrorism aimed mainly at South Korea.
North Korea allowed five to return in 2002, but the fate of the others remains unclear. In talks with Japan in Beijing on Tuesday, North Korea is expected to detail plans to investigate what happened to them, a possible step toward their eventual repatriation to Japan.
The 12 who Japan says have never come back paint a picture of lives interrupted, as if in mid-sentence, and irrevocably changed. At least three were students in Europe who may have been lured to North Korea by Japanese left-wing radicals. Others were bundled into small boats on the Japanese coast to cross the water to North Korea.
Here are brief descriptions of the 12 missing people, based on information from the Japanese government and support groups for the families of the abductees:
MISSING: Yutaka Kume, security guard in Tokyo
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 52
HIS STORY: Disappeared on Sept. 19, 1977, after traveling to Japan's west coast to meet an acquaintance who was actually a North Korean spy on a mission to abduct a single Japanese male aged between 45 and 50.
MISSING: Kyoko Matsumoto, office worker
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 29
HER STORY: Kidnapped on her way to knitting class in western Japan on Oct. 21, 1977. A neighbor spotted her with two men in the pine tree woods near the coast, about 200 meters (600 feet) from her home. The neighbor asked what they were doing, and one of the men punched him in the face. He fell down in pain and when he looked around, the others had disappeared, leaving behind only a sandal.
MISSING: Megumi Yokota, student
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 13
HER STORY: The symbol of Japan's abduction victims, Yokota is widely known for a photo of her in a navy blue school uniform standing under a row of cherry trees in full bloom. She never came home from badminton practice on Nov. 15, 1977, one day after giving her now 81-year-old father a comb on his birthday. A Japanese government website says she was confined in a dark compartment in a boat for nearly two days, crying "mother" and scratching the wall until her nails were nearly peeled off.
MISSING: Minoru Tanaka, Chinese restaurant employee
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 28
HIS STORY: Sent by Han Yon Dae, the owner of the restaurant he worked at, to Vienna in June 1978, Tanaka was never seen again. Han turned out to be a North Korea agent living in Japan. The case came to light after another agent told a Japanese magazine in 1996 that he had collaborated with Han and a third spy in Tanaka's abduction.
MISSING: Yaeko Taguchi, bar hostess
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 22
HER STORY: Disappeared in Tokyo in June 1978, leaving behind a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. Years later, during the trial of North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui for the bombing of a Korean Air flight in 1987, Kim said she was trained in Japanese language and culture by a woman who Japanese authorities believe was Taguchi.
MISSING: Shuichi Ichikawa, phone company employee, and Rumiko Masumoto, office worker
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 23 (Ichikawa) and 24 (Masumoto)
THEIR STORY: Told their families on Aug. 12, 1978, they were driving to Fukiage Beach, on Japan's southern island of Kyushu, to see the sunset. Two days later, Ichikawa's car was found near a campground at the beach.
MISSING: Miyoshi Soga, homemaker
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 46
HER STORY: Disappeared with her 19-year-old daughter Hitomi after they went grocery shopping on Japan's Sado Island on Aug. 12, 1978. North Korea later arranged Hitomi's marriage to Charles Jenkins, an American army deserter who had crossed from South to North Korea in 1965. Hitomi was one of the five who returned to Japan in 2002. Jenkins and their two daughters followed two years later.
MISSING: Toru Ishioka and Kaoru Matsuki, college students
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 22 (Ishioka) and 26 (Matsuki)
THEIR STORY: Both men disappeared while in Madrid in May 1980. North Korea says Ishioka agreed to come after meeting in Spain with two wives of Japanese Red Army Faction radicals who had fled to North Korea after hijacking a Japan Airlines flight in 1970. A letter from Ishioka to his family in 1988 said he and Matsuki were in North Korea. Ishioka's passport was used by North Korean agents, according to police.
MISSING: Tadaaki Hara, Chinese restaurant cook
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 43
HIS STORY: Taken out for drinks and dinner in Osaka by a group of North Korean spies in June 1980. They then took him by train to a beach resort in Kyushu, the southern island, and then by boat to North Korea. One of the spies, Shin Kwang Su, later traveled several times on a passport under Hara's name, including to South Korea, according to Japanese police.
MISSING: Keiko Arimoto, college student studying in London
AGE WHEN ABDUCTED: 23
HER STORY: Disappeared while traveling in Europe in July 1983. Megumi Yao, another of the wives of the Japan Airlines hijackers, later told a Japanese court that she had approached Arimoto in London, and with the lure of a false job offer, arranged for her to meet one of the hijackers and a North Korean agent posing as a businessman or diplomat in Copenhagen. Yao, who had returned to Japan, was testifying at the trial of another of the wives.
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu contributed to this report.
Follow Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi.