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    Japanese widow returns to North Korea

    One of the more well-known Japanese escapees from North Korea has gone to the DPRK embassy in Beijing and asked to return:

    The return to North Korea of a Japanese woman who came back to Japan in 2003 for the first time in 43 years has raised questions over whether her moves were voluntary or part of a political “game” played by North Korean officials.

    The woman, Fudeko Hirashima, 66, appeared at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing on April 18 and held a news conference, saying “evil people” had deceived her into going to Japan. She headed back to North Korea, where her grandchildren are, after throwing her hands in the air and saying in a tearful voice, “Long live the great general Kim Jong Il!” referring to the North Korean leader.

    Hirashima said she wanted to be reunited with her children and grandchildren, who are still living in North Korea.

    The Japanese government figures that DPRK agents got to her:

    Hiroshi Kato, secretary-general of the Life Funds for North Korean Refugees said North Korea appeared to be involved in Hirashima’s return.

    “It’s a perfect game by the North Korean side,” he said. “It’s a commonplace method for North Korea to use family love against people. They will probably use Hirashima as an example and say that Japan abducts people, too.”

    That last part is almost a certainty. How much of a push Hirashima needed is debatable, though. You can imagine how bewilderingly different Japan is from when she left in 1959. She may have little family left here (and she may not have departed on the best terms with them–when Japanese marry Koreans, family approval is frequently not forthcoming from either side). Her son has died, her daughter and grandchildren are still in North Korea, and she has little money to live on. Perhaps she decided it was worth proclaiming her love for Kim Jong-il in order to spend her final years where she would be happier.

    Like a lot of North Koreans, she has reason not to like the regime much. The Japanese version of the Mainichi article gives a timeline of her years there with wrenching terseness:

    14 December 1959: Went with husband, a North Korean living in Japan, to North Korea through cooperative repatriation project

    December 1969: Husband taken away by authorities, not heard from since

    May 1970: Domicile moved to village along China-Korea border

    November 2002: Escaped northward into China

    The Japanese version also contains a run-down of what she said at the press conference. She refers to the DPRK as 共和国 (kyouwakoku: “the Republic”).

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