Abductee’s son vows not to give up rescuing victims

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Koichiro Iizuka gives a speech with a photo of Shigeo Iizuka projected on a screen in Nagasaki on Saturday.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Koichiro Iizuka speaks about Shigeo Iizuka during an interview in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 8.

Sunday marked one year since Shigeo Iizuka, a brother of North Korea abductee Yaeko Taguchi and former head of a group representing families of those abducted by Pyongyang, died at age 83. Taguchi’s eldest son, Koichiro Iizuka, 45, was raised by Shigeo and has assumed his legacy of working to rescue abduction victims with a never-give-up attitude.

On Saturday, Koichiro visited Nagasaki at the invitation of a Nagasaki University student group. Over the past year, he has had greater opportunities to give speeches in many different locations after he assumed the post of secretary general of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea. Koichiro often used to attend gatherings with Shigeo and said that he has felt very sad attending such gatherings.

When Taguchi was kidnapped sometime around June 1978 at the age of 22, Koichiro was 1 year old, and Shigeo raised him as his second son. At the Japan-North Korea summit in September 2002, Pyongyang unilaterally claimed that Taguchi was dead. Shigeo had kept silent about the situation, but following the summit he joined the activities of the family association, saying, “I can’t sit still.”

At the time, Koichiro was concerned about the effect public appearances would have on Shigeo. But Shigeo told him firmly, “We won’t know until I try.”

In November 2007, Shigeo replaced Shigeru Yokota, the father of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at the age of 13, to lead the family association. Yokota died in 2020 at age 87. As the association’s activities were very demanding, Shigeo collapsed from fatigue and was hospitalized in December 2009. Koichiro flipped through Shigeo’s organizer and canceled all of his plans to attend rallies and other events.

“His feelings for Yaeko were natural, but he also kept a strong sense of responsibility as a representative [of the association],” Koichiro recalled.

In his final years, Shigeo was repeatedly hospitalized. He even traveled to lecture venues lying down in his taxi. Koichiro tried to persuade him dozen of times, saying, “Why don’t you step down as the representative and leave some energy for when Yaeko comes back.” However, Shigeo always said, “Who else is going to do this job?” He continued to carry the heavy responsibility until seven days before his death.

With his opportunities to speak out increasing, Koichiro has became aware of the weight of the words expressed by the abductees’ families. At such times, he recalls Shigeo, who conveyed the families’ thoughts and feelings without hesitation when meeting with successive prime ministers and foreign dignitaries.

Currently, Sakie Yokota, the 86-year-old mother of Megumi Yokota, and Akihiro Arimoto, the 94-year-old father of Keiko Arimoto, who was abducted when she was 23, are the only surviving parents of the abductees. Shigeo was in the same generation. “I don’t want them to suffer the same pain [as Shigeo],” Koichiro said.

Koichiro concluded his speech in Nagasaki by saying: “I want to keep in mind my father’s legacy of never giving up. Even if [my efforts] look naive and inelegant, I want to save the victims no matter what.”