Sakie Yokota, 87, is increasingly fearful that time is ticking away, robbing her of the chance to once again see her daughter Megumi, who was abducted in Japan and taken to North Korea at age 13 some 45 years ago.

For quite a while, she prioritized her busy schedule, dedicating much of her time to activities aimed at raising awareness about the abduction issue and urging the Japanese government to take action, often neglecting her health. However, on Feb. 28, 2023, she finally understood that her well-being could be in jeopardy when she suddenly felt disoriented, vomited, and began to faint.

Sakie Yokota speaks in an interview with Kyodo News on Oct. 27, 2023, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

With palpitations getting stronger and her vision blurring, she walked toward the door at her home in Kawasaki, outside Tokyo, thinking she needed to get help from the neighbors.

But at the doorstep she felt an acute tightness in her chest and collapsed. "This may be the last," she thought and managed to gasp, "Please God, let me live another two years. I will continue to work hard."

As she prayed and waited, the throbbing began to subside, and her vision recovered. She managed to leave her home, catch a taxi and go to the hospital, where she ended up undergoing surgery to insert an artery stent.

It was her first time being hospitalized and undergoing an operation.

"I don't know why I said 'two years,'" Yokota told a recent interview with Kyodo News. "As I am already 87 and since I don't expect to live a lot longer, I probably thought instantly at the time I would be allowed to live roughly two years."

The fate of Megumi, who came to symbolize Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea throughout the 1970s and 1980s, remains unknown after she was kidnapped on her way home from a junior high school badminton practice in Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast in 1977.

A total of 17 Japanese nationals are officially listed as abductees. North Korea is believed to have used abductees to teach Japanese language and culture to its spies or to steal their identities so that their agents could conduct espionage activities.

File photo taken in September 2014 in Niigata, northwest of Tokyo, shows Shigeru Yokota (R) and his wife Sakie, the parents of Megumi Yokota, a symbolic figure in the issue of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. Shigeru Yokota died on June 5, 2020, at age 87. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Yokota now lives alone at her home in Kawasaki after her husband Shigeru, with whom she spearheaded the campaign to bring back the abductees, died in 2020. The group of abductees' families, once led by Shigeru, is now being headed by one of their twin sons.

She said she cannot help being aware of the effects of aging, such as becoming frail and forgetful, but her firm resolve to rescue her daughter seems to keep pushing her forward.

"I am thinking perhaps she may be forced by North Korea to undertake grueling tasks if she is well and not resistive," Yokota said. "I always hope to hear her voice, see a photo of her or anything."

File photo taken in shows Sakie Yokota (C), whose daughter Megumi was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977, and Kim Eun Gyong (L) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongol, in March 2014. Sakie is holding Kim Eun Gyong's daughter. (Photo courtesy of Yoshifu Arita's office)(Kyodo)

In her living room are photos of Megumi taken in North Korea when she was in her 20s, as well as Kim Eun Gyong, who was born to Megumi and Kim Young Nam, a South Korean abducted by North Korea.

"I now prefer seeing a photo of (Megumi) as an adult rather than of when she was younger. It gives me a little reassurance, knowing that she has grown up to this age, although what happened afterward remains unknown," Yokota said of her daughter, who would be 59.

In 2002, five abductees were returned to Japan after then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with North Korea's leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang, the first-ever summit between the two countries that do not maintain diplomatic ties.

Megumi was not among them, and North Korea insisted that she had committed suicide after giving birth to a daughter.

Koizumi revisited Pyongyang in 2004 and North Korea handed over cremated remains, which it claimed were those of Megumi. However the Japanese government said the remains were not hers, citing DNA analysis.

Ten years later, Yokota and her husband had the opportunity to meet Kim Eun Gyong and their great-granddaughter in Mongolia, a rare moment of joy amid decades of sorrow.

Over the years, the Yokotas have tirelessly rallied to bring Megumi and other victims back, traveling across the country to make more than 1,400 speeches and actively initiating petitions, urging the government to take action.

They also sought to make their plight known overseas, with Sakie Yokota having met four U.S. presidents, most recently Joe Biden. She also testified before a U.S. congressional panel and spoke before a U.N. human rights working group in Geneva.

Even after her husband's death, she continues to speak at rallies and other events to bring attention to the issue.

But no substantial progress has been made, leaving Yokota frustrated.

She firmly believes that a breakthrough in the abduction issue hinges on the Japanese government and the realization of a summit between the Japanese and North Korean leaders.

"It is so irritating that the prime minister cannot even meet (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un," said Yokota.

"The prime minister earned the post after saying he would protect the Japanese people. The government needs to work harder and politicians need to have active discussions toward resolving the abductions issue," she said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October 2021, has shown willingness to hold direct talks with Kim Jong Un. He has repeatedly said he would do so "without preconditions" rather than insisting that any summit should yield progress on the abduction issue.

Japanese officials engaged in several informal contacts with the North Korean side around this spring, according to sources close to the matter.

Hitomi Soga, a former Japanese abductee to North Korea, speaks at a press conference in Sado, Niigata Prefecture, on Oct. 17, 2022. She was repatriated to Japan in October 2002 along with four other Japanese abduction victims of North Korea. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

However, any negotiations over the long-standing issue have become challenging due to the regional security environment worsened by Pyongyang's repeated test-firing of ballistic missiles. North Korea also maintains that the abduction issue has been resolved and that it holds no more abductees.

While Yokota is determined to remain fit until the day they reunite, Megumi may also be wishing the same.


Hitomi Soga, 64, who was among the five abductees that returned to Japan in 2002, recently shared at a gathering her memories of the months she spent with Megumi in North Korea. Soga was abducted in 1978 from Niigata Prefecture along with her mother Miyoshi Soga.

Soga recalled that she and Megumi would quietly sing a Japanese song, Momiji, so their North Korean supervisors would not notice. She said they also enjoyed a rare treat of eating ice cream together.

When she was asked by a moderator what messages Megumi would have for her family at this moment, Soga said, "In essence, 'Mother and my beloved family, how are you? Please stay well from now on and forever.' I think Megumi-san has always kept this feeling."

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