Neighbors of the recently deceased Shigeru Yokota, father of a girl abducted by North Korea in the late 1970s and never returned, pushed Monday for the immediate repatriation of Japanese abductees via a silent demonstration in Tokyo.
Five supporters living in the same Kawasaki apartment building as Yokota and his wife Sakie, 84, marched around the Japanese parliament holding white flowers and a large banner with a photo of the couple's daughter Megumi.
They urged the Japanese government to increase pressure on Pyongyang in hopes of resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted in the 1970s and 1980s. The problem is particularly urgent as many family members of the victims are entering old age and are running out of time, the protestors said.
Shigeru Yokota, 87, died on June 5 after working for more than two decades alongside family members of other abduction victims in pressing the government to rescue their children and siblings, including Megumi who was taken to North Korea at age 13 in 1977.
"We are also aging, but used our energy to gather here," said Tadashi Tajima, 78, leader of the neighbors' group. "We hope the power of public opinion and politics will help make Megumi's reunion with her family a reality."
Japan officially lists 17 people as having been abducted by the North with five already repatriated. But Pyongyang maintains eight died, including Megumi, and that the other four never entered the country.
Families of the abductees believe they are still alive and living in North Korea.
Yokota was a central figure in the movement and U.S. President Donald Trump referred to Megumi in an address to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2017, bringing attention to the efforts of the victims' families.
Supporters of Sakie, who worked tirelessly with Yokota and gave speeches nationwide, worry that campaigning at her advanced age is taking a toll.
"She does not have much time left. I want at least (Sakie and Megumi) to be reunited," said Chiyo Nakabayashi, 92, a former teacher at an elementary school in Niigata, central Japan, which Megumi attended.
Although not at the march in Tokyo, Nakabayashi earlier joined with some of Megumi's former classmates to establish a group that organizes charity concerts to help efforts toward resolving the abduction issue.
Before Yokota's death, Sakie had visited him daily at the hospital over a two-year period and told him each time, "Let's hang on and meet Megumi again, even to just get a glimpse of her," according to Nakabayashi.
After Sakie reiterated at a June 9 press conference her determination to keep up the fight to bring her daughter home, Nakabayashi said she sent her a letter pledging to help "with the support of Shigeru from heaven."
"Ever since I became involved with Megumi's family, I've never considered the abduction issue as somebody else's problem," said Nakabayashi. "I have also aged, but I will strive with people who are still alive."