Iizuka, ex-head of group of abductees’ families, dies at 83

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Shigeo Iizuka, then representative of a group of abductees’ relatives, appeals for the rescue of the abductees on Nov. 13, 2021.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Shigeo Iizuka, former leader of a group of families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago, died on Saturday at a hospital in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, according to the group. He was 83.

Iizuka, whose younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was kidnapped in 1978 at the age of 22, raised Taguchi’s first son, Koichiro, as his “own child.”

Koichiro, now 44, said in a statement released on Saturday that Iizuka was unable to reunite with his sister to his great sorrow. “This outcome is cruel,” he added.

Iizuka assumed the group’s leadership in 2007 to succeed abductee Megumi Yokota’s father, Shigeru Yokota, who died at 87 in June 2020. While working at a plant in Saitama, Iizuka continued to lead the group’s activities to demand the Japanese government and others realize the return of abductees.

In 2009, Iizuka and Koichiro met with former North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui, responsible for the Korean Air Flight 858 bombing in 1987, in Busan, South Korea, becoming the first Japanese abductee relatives to meet Kim, who is believed to have been taught Japanese by Taguchi. They met with Kim again when she visited Japan in 2010.

In a signature campaign launched by the group to realize the early return of the abductees, the number of signatures collected reached the group’s goal of 10 million in 2013. The number exceeded 13 million in May 2019.

Iizuka met with then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014 and then U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017 and 2019 to seek the United States’ involvement and cooperation in efforts to resolve the abduction issue.

On Nov. 13 this year, Iizuka made an address at a Tokyo gathering calling for the immediate return of the abductees. Later that month, however, he fell ill and was hospitalized. After Iizuka indicated his intention to step down as head of the group, Takuya Yokota, 53, a younger brother of Megumi, assumed the leadership on Dec. 11 and Koichiro took over the post of head of the group’s secretariat from Yokota.