Yokota Marks 87th Birthday Less Able to Continue Fight for Abducted Daughter

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sakie Yokota speaks at her home in Kawasaki in late January.

As she marks another birthday without her daughter nearby, Sakie Yokota says she will continue to “do what I can” regarding the fate of Megumi, who was abducted at age 13 by North Korean agents 45 years ago.

Yokota turned 87 on Saturday, the same age that her husband Shigeru was when he passed away three years ago. Amid the lingering anger and impatience, she spends her days continuing her efforts to get her beloved daughter back.

Upon waking every morning, Yokota says good morning to the photo of Shigeru in the living room of her apartment in Kawasaki, then places a cup of hot tea in front of it.

At the time of her husband’s death in June 2020, Yokota thought she would remain in good health for another five or six years. But recently, her lower limbs have weakened, and she has been tripping and falling more often. She suddenly feels faint while speaking in a raised voice in front of groups, leading her to refrain from appearing in public.

These days, she spends her time replying to the many letters of encouragement she receives from across the nation. She pictures the people who sent them as she sits down at her dinner table and writes about 15 letters a day.

“I’m very thankful that they have not forgotten us,” Yokota said.

 Born in Kyoto, Yokota was called “Beni-chan” as a child because her cheeks often turned red due to her shyness. “Beni” means the color of crimson.

After graduating from high school, she worked at a kimono-dyeing workshop, and a fellow female employee introduced her to Shigeru. The two became inseparable, and after Megumi’s kidnapping, traveled around the country together to appeal for her return.

Nowadays, alone at home, there are times when her spirit weakens. “I suppose this is going to end without ever being resolved,” she thinks to herself.

At such times, she is heartened when a former colleague calls and fondly chastises her, “Beni-chan, you can’t just sit at home doing nothing.”

These days, it is the siblings of the abductees who have taken on the task of leading the rescue efforts in place of Yokota and the other parents.

Megumi’s twin brothers, now 54, are heavily involved. Takuya Yokota heads the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, and Tetsuya is the deputy secretary general.

“Ever since my sister disappeared, our mother always kept a brave face so that our lives were not disrupted,” Takuya said. “She really is strong-hearted.”

Tetsuya expressed concern for their mother, saying, “She has been endured so much for so long trying to bring back our sister, who is more important than her own life. I wish she could take a moment to relax.”

In October, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida showed a strong desire to resolve the abduction issue, saying, “Given that the families are getting older, it is a human rights issue with a time limit.”

For now, Sakie Yokota maintains hope.

“Everyone gets older so I can’t do anything about that,” she said. “The time that passes without resolution is too dreadful. I want [the government] to show actions, not just words.”