NK Defector Escapes China after 14 Years

Mother Was Japanese

The following is the true story of a daughter born in North Korea to an ethnic Korean father from Japan and a Japanese mother. Her parents had married in Japan, then moved to North Korea where the daughter was born. Neither the Japanese mother nor her daughter ever reached Japan. Would things have been different if they were Labor Party members?

LFNKR interviews daughter, Akiko Toyota

Is North Korea really the best nation in the world?

I have ended up becoming a citizen of South Korea, while I wanted to be a citizen of Japan.

I do appreciate, however, having landed safe and alive in this country on July 17, 2008. I am currently enjoying my new life here in Pusan, which is closest to Japan.

Looking back, following my escape into China, I lived like a ghost for 14 years, wandering about without nationality. Although I was a political refugee, I had no place to go and no choice but to keep moving on.

I was born in North Hamgyong Province, North Korea in 1971 as a second-generation Japanese. My father, Pukdo Lee (not his real name), is an ethnic Korean from Hokkaido in northern Japan, and my mother, Michiko Toyota (also an alias), is a Japanese. My Japanese name is Akiko Toyota.

Until I reached adulthood, I believed what I was constantly told, that North Korea, where I was born, was the best country in the world. After reaching adulthood, I began discovering the real nature of the country. This is because the government in North Korea strictly controls freedom of speech and media.

My listening to NHK and KBS broadcast was detected

While I was working for a civil registration office in North Korea, I began finding out more about world affairs and the real nature of North Korea. While I was working at the office, a chance came to listen to a radio that had been confiscated by the economic inspection department, and I listened to NHK broadcasts from Japan and KBS broadcasts from South Korea. But my listening was discovered. One of my co-workers carelessly left a piece of paper on his desk. He had written down on the paper the lyrics of a song called “For Love” sung by a South Korean singer named Kim Jong Hwan. A security inspector discovered the paper, which triggered an investigation. During his questioning, my co-worker disclosed that I also listened to the radio.

In January 1994, my mother was arrested by a county security supervisor when she went out to buy food. I have been unable to reach my mother since then, although I continue to try. I have learned that my father and my younger brother no longer live in our house in North Korea.

Following my questioning and torture, I decided to cross the Tumen River

During the investigation, we were forced to kneel on a cement floor. The officers tortured us by hitting us on our heads and chests with chairs and square boards while cursing us and accusing us of having been contaminated by capitalism. For listening to foreign broadcasts we were charged with spying.

Even as I was collapsing nearly unconscious from repeated torture, I resolved that I must escape alive from this country and tell the entire world about the situation in North Korea. I firmly promised myself that I would cross the Tumen River. So I did, by carefully watching for my chance.

Joining the Worker’s Party may lead to a chance to return to Japan?

In North Korea, everything is closely connected to one’s political ranking or status, and my mother, as a Japanese, had no human rights. She was not allowed to use her real Japanese name, not allowed to return to her country and had no way to discover how her relatives in Japan were doing. However, she was told that she would be entitled to go back to Japan if she were allowed to join the Worker’s Party of North Korea. She believed it and continued to work extremely hard to be allowed that privilege. At the time I escaped from the counry, however, she was still not being allowed to join the Party.

My mother was exiled to a mine because she submitted written opinions

Born in 1947 in Japan, my mother moved with my father from Japan to North Korea at the end of 1960’s. They were fooled by the propaganda “North Korea is paradise on the earth” that had been launched by The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

The moment she landed in North Korea, she felt that the country was far from being a paradise on earth, and submitted a written request to the North Korean government to immediately return to Japan. Her request was rejected. As she found out more about the true nature of the government there while she was living in Pyongyang, she repeatedly submitted written requests for permission to go back to Japan. Finally, she and her family were finally exiled to a mine in xx county (county undisclosed for security reasons). When they were exiled, the authorities in the North Korean government threatened her, saying, “If you ever submit another written request to return to Japan or even speak Japanese, all of your family members will die.”

My mother hung on to her dream of becoming a Worker’s Party member so that she could go back to Japan. For her dream to come true, she had to work 12 hours a day. Under the stress of malnutrition and political pressure, I continued to work hard at a county textile factory. However, my mother’s dream never came true, and she was locked in a life of despair.

I can only imagine how hard it was for her to survive in North Korea, where the language, culture and customs are so different. In addition, she was forced to work in the morning before breakfast, work to serve the society, work at the village farm in the afternoon, and attend meetings in the evening.

When she got sick, she never got medicines for herself. Besides, the county hospital had no medicines anyway, so she just took home remedies. But, when her family members got sick, she did manage to get the necessary medicines by selling her last Japanese-made household goods.

Do not let them die in North Korea

I still want to help my mother, but I know it is impossible to do that without the help of the Japanese government. I hope the government of Japan will do their best to bring my mother back home. I believe that the wish to return to Japan is not only the wish of my mother and me but the wish of all Japanese people in North Korea. I really do not want those senior Japanese citizens in their 60s and 70s to die in North Korea. They should be allowed to return to their home country where they can enjoy peace in their final days.

After we were exiled to the xx county, we could no longer contact my uncle living in Japan and we no longer could receive the food and household goods that my uncle had been sending us. When it became difficult to make a living after the rations of food stopped, my mother began exchanging Japanese-made goods for food for us. Our living standard, however, grew worse.

Many Japanese wives are missing

There are many cases of Japanese wives disappearing while wandering around North Korea seeking food. In the case of my parents, however, I think it is more likely that they are being confined in a gulag or have been exiled someplace deep in the mountains.

I strongly urge the Japanese government to pay attention to the suffering Japanese wives in North Korea and work on measures and policies to help them.

Because my mother is Japanese, I had long wanted to go to Japan. When I was little, my mother told me with tears in her eyes, “It snows a lot during winter in my hometown in Hokkaido. You have to shovel snow before you can walk. When you grow up, you should visit Hokkaido and see the snow.” Back then, I was too small to understand what she meant, but now I understand her feelings very well.

The Japanese government should compensate the victims of human rights violations. The majority of the Japanese people who moved to North Korea now believe that the propaganda claiming North Korea is a paradise in the earth was a trick planned by the Japanese government to drive Koreans out of Japan.

The Japanese government should be responsible for the victims of human rights violations, since they knowingly sent their own people to the “dark land.”

Even at this very moment, there are many Japanese people who remain deprived of their human rights and are dying of starvation. The Japanese government must not turn their eyes away from the plight of these Japanese citizens. I urge the Japanese government to institute measures to help them so that they will be able to see their families, relatives and parents again as soon as possible. Reaction of the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang

While I was staying in China, I obtained a variety of information through the Internet. One of the things I discovered is that more than 10,000 North Korean defectors have resettled in South Korea.

Since I wanted to resettle in Japan, I contacted the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang five times between 2004 and 2005. Their answer was always “Wait” and I finally learned not to expect any more from them. It was extremely difficult to hang on to hope while I remained a fugitive in China.