Do you know about the abduction of Japanese by North Korea issue? graph of japanese statisticsIf there’s one subject that gets many foreigner eyeballs rolling, it’s the ongoing saga of the North Korean abduction issue, where about 20 or more years ago a number of Japanese nationals (and other nationals) were abducted by agents of North Korea, a subject kept alive by many politicians for political ends, as this survey from the Cabinet Office Japan perhaps demonstrates.


Between the 7th and 17th of June 2012, 3,000 Japanese citizens aged 20 or older were selected at random from residency records were approached for face to face interviews. 1,912 people chose to answer the questions, but more detailed demographics were not provided. Note that this is the first time that selection method in these Cabinet Office surveys have mentioned that it is citizens; up until now it has just said people over 20, but since foreigners have recently been added to the main registry system, and that registry is used as the source for the random sampling, I presume they have decided to add the extra qualification.

There’s a number of reasons why North Korean abductions induce eye-rolling. For my part, it’s a combination of it being raised to such a level as appearing to sticking a spoke in the wheel of the six country talks on the DPRK, that the Koreans have said themselves that they consider the matter finalised, and by the most likely reality that the remaining missing people are dead. There’s also victims of international divorces gone bad who bring up the dissonance between Japan’s response to child abductions and North Korean abductions.

Note that the blue flag that the Prime Minister and other politicians wear is their yellow ribbon for the abductees.

Research results

Q1: Do you know about the abduction of Japanese by North Korea issue? (Sample size=1,912)

Yes, know it in detail (to SQ) 96.1%
Yes, but not the details (to SQ) 3.6%
No, not heard about it 0.2%
Don’t know 0.1%

Q1SQ: From where have you come to know about the abduction of Japanese by North Korea issue? (Sample size=1,906, multiple answer)

Television 99.3%
Newspapers 83.3%
Books, magazines, other publications 32.1%
Radio 27.8%
Internet 18.7%
Pamphlets, leaflets, posters, etc 14.8%
Family, friends 14.1%
Symposiums, other public awareness events 6.4%
Lessons at school 3.4%
Other 0.2%

Q2: Would you like to participate in any awareness activities, etc? (Sample size=1,912)

Want to participate (to SQ1) 6.6%
Perhaps want to participate (to SQ1) 33.1%
Perhaps don’t want to participate (to SQ2) 36.8%
Don’t want to participate (to SQ2) 19.1%
Don’t know 4.4%

Q2SQ1: What kinds of material would you like to see covered by awareness activities, etc? (Sample size=758, multiple answer)

Systems and initiatives the country has regarding solving the abduction issue 79.2%
What the prime minister, other relevant ministers think about matters regarding the abduction issue 48.0%
International situation regarding North Korea 44.6%
Expert opinions on the issues, international trends regarding solving the abduction issue 42.7%
North Korea and the abduction issue 41.2%
Explanation of the background to the abductions 35.5%
Other 1.2%
Nothing in particular 0.5%
Don’t know 0.9%

Q2SQ2: Why do you not want to participate in awareness activities, etc? Choose the one answer closest to your way of thinking. (Sample size=1,069)

Cannot make the time to participate 48.6%
Don’t understand the meaning of participating in awareness activities 18.1%
Not interested in the details of awareness activities 12.1%
Not interested in the abduction issue 4.7%
Other 13.3%
Don’t know 3.3%

Q3: What kinds of awareness activities, etc would it be easy for you to participate in? (Sample size=1,912, multiple answer)

Lecture, symposium featuring experts, prominent figures in the abduction issue 38.4%
Theatre, movie, animation around the theme of the abduction issue 35.4%
Football match, other sports event to promote the abduction issue 22.3%
Panel discussion featuring many people with detailed knowledge of the abduction issue 20.9%
Mini concert, choir, musical performances the theme of the abduction issue 20.3%
Other 1.7%
Nothing in particular 15.0%
Don’t know 3.8%

Q4: In order to foster understanding of the abduction issue in the younger generation, in the future what activities do you think will be effective towards this goal? (Sample size=1,912, multiple answer)

Sufficient school education 64.2%
Sufficient internet, other youth-oriented media-based awareness activities 54.7%
Sufficient television, newspaper-based awareness activities 49.5%
Youth-oriented symposiums, other awareness activities 27.2%
Other 0.8%
No special youth-oriented activities are needed 2.7%
Don’t know 4.4%


John Gomez · July 28, 2012 at 14:20

Dear Ken,
Thank you so much for posting this article.
The North Korean abductions are certainly a tragedy, but the following sentence caught my interest.
“There’s also victims of international divorces gone bad who bring up the dissonance between Japan’s response to child abductions and North Korean abductions.”
This is quite well taken. Moreover, this is not only a problem for foreigners in international marriages. Actually, the child abduction problem also affects a very large number of children within Japan where both parents are Japanese. Let me explain.

International cases
You cited a Japan Times article that refers to comments by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, whom I have met five times at Department of State town hall meetings in Washington for left-behind American parents whose children are abducted and now living in Japan. Indeed, there are at least 374 American children who have been abducted by their parent from the US to Japan from 1994 to August 2011 according to the US Department of State (DoS). (Numbers on DoS websites are not up to date.) There are probably more children, but these are the reported numbers. Not everyone reports their case to DoS. There are also numerous children from several other countries around the world who have been abducted by their parent to Japan.

Abductions within Japan
In fact, the abduction problem also occurs in families where both parents are Japanese on a vast scale within Japan because of a few key factors.
1) Parental child abduction is not illegal in Japan.
2) After divorce, only one parent retains parental custodial rights.
3) Visitation rights are not enforceable. Therefore, a loving noncustodial parent cannot access his/her children if the custodial parent does not permit it.
4) Even parents who are still married and have custodial rights, but who are separated and denied access to their children by their spouse, cannot enforce their custodial right to see their child(ren). Typically, if they go to a family court to petition to visit their children even while still married, they will be granted one or two hours of visitation per month.
5) These conditions result in a scenario where a vast number of children in Japan have lost access to their parent. Again, since parental child abduction is not a crime, it is not counted as such. However, this loss of access is in effect an abduction that has been masked as a child custody determination in the family court system upon divorce and granting of sole custody.

Estimate of number of children affected
There is a statistical emphasis in What Japan Thinks, so I believe the following analysis would be of interest.
The following data including more details are available upon request. This is from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. It is categorized by nationality and gender of the foreign spouse as well as including information when both spouses are Japanese.
An estimate of the number of children affected within Japan is as follows. From 1992 to 2010, there have been 4,609,654 divorces in Japan. About 95% of these are between couples where both are Japanese. Since 1998, the marriage-divorce ratio has been more than 30% every year. There is on average about one child per divorce (1992 – 2010), so the number of children involved is roughly equal to the number of divorces. A survey reported by NHK’s Close Up Gendai on September 8, 2010 indicates that 58% of respondents do not have visitation with their children. Multiplying the number of divorces by the percentage without visitation gives an estimated 2.7 million children who have lost access to their parent during this time. This affects about 160,000 children per year in Japan or about 20% of the children. Quite a number of them were abducted prior to the divorce. Then, the abducting parent virtually always wins sole custody in the family court system. Each one of these loss of access cases is a human rights violation according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Japan. The problem is a deficiency of the Japanese family court system affecting parents whether they are Japanese or foreigners, mothers as well as fathers. The Japanese family courts do not honor foreign court orders in international abduction cases where laws have been broken in other countries.

Human rights issue and activity
Japanese parental child abduction is a major social issue affecting a vast number of people within Japan and around the world. The abduction issue has been raised to the top five bilateral issues between the US and Japan as discussed by Prime Minister Noda and President Obama in their top-level bilateral meeting at the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2011. In collaboration with many others, I am working with government officials from numerous countries including Japan and parents around the world including Japanese parents on this human rights issue.

Here is an example of recent activity on July 8. The demonstration marched through Ginza. An open letter was hand delivered to the US Embassy for Secretary Clinton.
Parents urge Clinton to press Japan on child custody
open letter to Secretary Clinton

John Gomez

Steven · July 30, 2012 at 11:15

Mr. Gomez,

That was really insightful. I’ve heard about foreign cases but never realized it was also an issue with domestic cases. Thank you for shedding so much light on all of this.

It all seems very tragic. I hope things will get better for all of the people involved in such cases some day.

Thank you,

PS: Ken– the data here is certainly of interest, but it definitely had me lifting an eyebrow thinking “why this– why now?” I guess Japan really does dig vintage.

John Gomez · July 30, 2012 at 23:46


Thanks for your post. Again, my post was prompted by the following sentence:
“There’s also victims of international divorces gone bad who bring up the dissonance between Japan’s response to child abductions and North Korean abductions.”

The Japanese government has quite a different attitude toward the North Korean abductions from that of the parental abductions to and within Japan. We are working extremely hard on the latter.

First, I explained that there are in effect an extremely large number of abductions within Japan happening all the time under the guise of child custody determinations in addition to the international abductions to Japan. Furthermore, a Diet delegation of the Japanese government had visited Washington last July and appealed to the US Government to withhold humanitarian food aid to North Korea, where children are starving due to lack of food, yet the same government has not yet resolved all the child abductions that I explained by showing the statistics as well as the international abductions from the US to Japan. The inconsistency exhibits bad logical reasoning and an insensitivity to the unresolved parental abduction cases.

Finally, as Ken noted, Assistant Secretary Campbell asked that the two issues be worded on in parallel in the article that he referenced in his post.


Usman Makhdoom · November 1, 2012 at 13:28

I’m not sure where you get the idea that ‘foreigners’ eyeballs get rolling as a general reality. You would be best served, I will say, by the adage of ‘speak for yourself’ in such an instance as this when you cannot possibly know the general expat population in Japan’s reaction is to the abduction issue.

Frankly speaking, what this *actually* sounds like the sort of opinion you and your like-minded Western friends discuss over a pint and laugh/glad-hand one another over.

This kind of arrogance of your type is breathtaking – the old colonial Orientalist mindset that spouts disdain, of course, for the inferior locals. But what actually elevates it to ‘breathtaking’, however, is that you actually deign to act as though your Western, probably white, circle of acquaintances and their ilk are all who exist by way of ‘foreigners’ in Japan.

Dissonance between child abductions and the North Korean ones? Are you utterly insane, to compare abduction by one _parent_ of a child, as indefensible as this is, and the years of brutal kidnapping of Japanese children and adults by the world’s most brutal regime, followed by decades of lying, denial, and mealy-mouthed admitting of the fact, at last, when Japan offered the Communist shithole some free food?

By your logic, Japan should never have investigated the issue or forced it to begin with. The poor ‘Korean side’ considered it ‘done’ then, too – who was Japan to even bring the damn thing up? Pfffft, more childish Japan! Yes?

The deep-seated sort of racist vitriol people like you carry is so difficult to conceal it bubbles up even on a pedestrian blog about statistics and surveys. Wonderful job. Your fortunate Japanese wife, to be so blessed as to be betrothed to an enlightened white man as yourself!

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