TOKYO — Shigeru Yokota’s decadeslong fight to bring home his daughter, Megumi, who was abducted by North Korea 43 years ago, ended Friday — not with her return as he had hoped, but with his death at the age of 87.
Megumi was just 13 years old when she went missing on her way home from school in the city of Niigata in November 1977.
Yokota, who at the time worked for the Bank of Japan’s local branch, would walk through nearby beaches every morning with his wife, Sakie, searching for any signs of their daughter. They also left their porch lights on all night every night in case Megumi returned, until Yokota’s job transferred him to Tokyo six years later.
Then in 1997, Kim Hyon Hui, a North Korean spy arrested for bombing a South Korean jetliner, suggested that Megumi was among those abducted by North Korean agents. The Yokotas decided to publish their daughter’s real name, which they previously had not done, and formed an association with seven other families of abduction victims that March to advocate for their return. Yokota led this association until 2007, when he stepped down due to health reasons.
North Korea officially admitted to the abductions and apologized at a bilateral summit in September 2002. While some of the victims were returned to Japan, North Korea claimed Megumi had killed herself about a decade prior.
“I was hoping for a good outcome,” Yokota had said through tears after hearing the news.
But DNA analysis found that Megumi’s purported remains that North Korea sent to Japan actually belonged to different people. Pyongyang also claimed she had died in 1994, after initially giving the date as 1993.
Convinced his daughter was still alive, Yokota organized photo exhibits and even a film to raise awareness about the abductions. He spoke with numerous dignitaries, including former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and former South Korean President Kim Young-sam to advocate for the abductees’ return.
Yokota and his wife eventually met with Megumi’s daughter, Kim Eun Gyong, in Mongolia in 2014. “She looked like Megumi, and my longtime dream has come true,” he said.
But his health had deteriorated since about 2015. He was conspicuously absent when members of the families association met with U.S. President Donald Trump during his trip to Japan in 2017.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his condolences Friday for Yokota’s death. “As prime minister, I am heartbroken that I could not bring every abductee back home,” he said.
One of Yokota’s most prized possessions was a comb Megumi gave him, which he carried everywhere he went. “I would love to have her comb my hair one day,” he had said, though he would not live to see this become reality.