JIN-349 -- Sins of the Fathers: The Burden of the Yodogo Group's Children

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 349
Monday December 19, 2005 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: Sins of the Fathers: The Burden of the Yodogo Group's Children

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+++ VIEWPOINT: Sins of the Fathers: The Burden of the Yodogo Group's Children

In March 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, a Japan Airlines
plane, the "Yodogo," bound for Fukuoka from Haneda Airport, in
Tokyo, was hijacked to North Korea by a group of nine student
radicals affiliated with the Red Army. The passengers were released
in Fukuoka Airport and Gimpo International Airport in Seoul.

Japanese authorities suspect some of the Yodogo group had a hand
in the abduction of Japanese to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
The group vehemently denies involvement.

The Yodogo group members married Japanese women and sired children
in North Korea. Three of the group died there and two were arrested after
slipping into Japan. Four remain in the North with six wives and children.

Other children have relocated to Japan. Not only were their fathers
hijackers, but they grew up in a country whose abduction of Japanese and
saber rattling have made it anathema to people here. Branded with this
double stigma, they are trying to lead normal lives.

Recently the "Asahi Shimbun," a major daily, interviewed two of the
children. Their story offers a glimpse into life in reclusive North
Korea, reveals their victimization by a high-handed Japanese government,
and suggests their ordeal may finally be over.

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Part I The Divided Self

Taro and Hanako (invented names) are the son and daughter of a
Yodogo group father and a mother who left Japan for North Korea.
The children, aged 27 and 26, first set foot in Japan in September
2002. They now live in Osaka Prefecture.

Ever since reaching the age of reason they had wondered why they
were living in a foreign country.

Taro's earliest memory is of their apartment building on the outskirts
of Pyongyang. They lived together with the families of the other
hijackers. Hanako remembers playing tag and Chinese jump rope with
Korean kids.

Compulsory education in North Korea comprises kindergarten (1 year),
"the people's school" (grade school; 4), and middle/high school (6).
But the siblings attended a private school operated by the Yodogo group.
They learned to read and write Japanese from a hand-made textbook,
sang Japanese nursery rhymes, and performed "The Adventures of
Momotaro." They were prohibited to speak Korean at home. "We were
always told to acquire a solid grasp of Japanese language and culture,"
recalls Taro. "This country is only your temporary home."

The Yodogo group's children entered the third grade of the people's
school, after which they lived in an apartment in downtown Pyongyang
on weekdays, the mothers taking turns living with them. At school they
used Korean names and deported themselves as Koreans. Only the
principal and a few select teachers knew the truth.

At lunchtime kids would snack from one another's lunch boxes. Their
classmates were surprised to find croquettes and inari-zushi
(fried bean-curd stuffed with boiled rice )in Taro's and Hanko's
lunch boxes.

Brother and sister learned dad was a highjacker after entering middle/high
school. Taro had discovered a collection of the group's private papers.
He asked his father for an explanation.

"Japan was a bad country because it supported the war of aggression
against Vietnam," his father explained. "We felt we had to use student
power to change Japan." Taro could understand his father's motive,
but he could not comprehend the connection between the student movement
and the highjacking, in which the passengers were taken hostage. He
felt the highjackers owed them an apology.

Hanako wanted to know why her father and the others had chosen
North Korea as their refuge. The answer was appallingly simple.
At the time the Japanese government was critical of North Korea.
It boiled down to the simple equation "the enemy of our enemy is our
ally." She also learned that the highjackers had planned to remain in
North Korea only temporarily, but were unable to return to Japan for
various reasons.

Taro and Hanako began to wrestle with questions of race and national
identity. They realized they received special treatment. In a city where
official limousines were virtually the only vehicles on the wide
boulevards, they had a private car at their disposal. In a country with
mass starvation, they ate their fill of polished rice. Meanwhile, in
school they learned of Japan's brutal occupation of Korea. With no
information to extenuate Japan's colonization of the peninsula, they
accepted the Korean line at face value and brimmed with loathing for the
country of their parents' birth.

After graduation, Taro and Hanako, along with the other children, moved
to the relatively prosperous city of Rason, which borders on China and
Russia. They ran a trading firm and restaurant. Their goal was to earn
money and the skills to live in Japan. Over the course of three years
they sold Japanese appliances to locals, Chinese and Russians.

--Burritt Sabin

[Next week's JIN recounts Taro and Hanako's relocation to and experiences
in Japan.]

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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