The story of two escapes starring the same man. That of a child who escaped with his family from the violence and misery of post-war Japan. And that of an adult, a “Japanese bastard”, who fled the most repressive regime in the world to return to the starting box.
“The last words I said to my family still resonate in my ears: if I manage to get to Japan, one way or another, it doesn’t matter what it costs me, I’ll take you there too.” Masaji Ishikawa he could never keep his promise. One of her daughters starved to death in North Korea. As for his other son and his wife, he has little hope that they will still be alive.
Twenty-four years have passed since his flight from North Korea. Masaji has crumbled his life in a long and profound story: A river in the dark (Captain Swing). There is no possibility to speak to the author. The fear that reigns in him persists from some hidden place in Japanese lands. But thanks to Esther Cruz’s translation we have one of the few first-person testimonies of a round trip to a “communist paradise” that was actually a hell from which he managed to escape.
It all started after the Japanese defeat in World War II, which left 2.4 million Koreans stranded in Japan. Masaji Ishikawa was raised in the Mizonokuchi neighborhood in the city of Kawasaki, south of Tokyo. His childhood was marked by the violent figure of his father, Do Sam-dal, who was from South Korea. The beatings he gave his mother, the Japanese Miyoko Ishikawa, were daily.
“My father used to walk around the neighborhood with twenty or thirty Korean henchmen. He was one of the leaders of the Korean community and he enjoyed looking for a fight with any Japanese who made him nervous,” explains the author. Her father joined the then-so-called General Association of Koreans in Japan, which in 1949 was declared a terrorist group.
Masaji recalls the classes at the Korean school in Yokohama: “We were taught that Kim Il-sung – grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un – was the king who had liberated Korea from colonialism. He had waged a war against the US imperialists and their South Korean lackeys, and he had won it. ”
At that time, Japan had entered a recession and the Koreans were at the bottom rung of the social ladder.. Meanwhile, upstairs in North Korea, Kim Il-sung proclaimed that he was building a socialist utopia. They called it the Chollima Movement. And Masaji’s teachers vouched for it: “It is the promised land, paradise,” they told him.
Then came the famous Kim Il-sung speech on September 8, 1958, in which He invited “the compatriots without rights and discriminated against who live in Japan to return to the motherland”. After these statements, thanks to the help of the Japanese Red Cross, the ships began to depart with the returnees north. About 100,000 people of Korean descent migrated from Japan to North Korea between 1959 and 1984.. Many of them descendants of the workers that the period of the Empire of Japan dragged as slave labor.
Masaji and his family – father, mother and three sisters – left in 1960 on board a Soviet ship to the North Korean port of Chongjin. Shortly after arriving, the then teenager realized the reality of that promised land.
THE REALITY OF “THE PROMISED LAND”
“In the great egalitarian paradise of North Korea, you had to quickly learn what your place was. If you had good contacts and friends in the League of Korean Residents in Japan or in the Korean Workers Party, they sent you to live in the capital, Pyongyang, or Wosan, the second largest city in the country. Otherwise, there was nothing to do. Locally, the residents organized into groups of five families each, which had a person in charge of informing the secret police about their members, especially about the nobodies, because being a nobody, you would automatically become a suspect. Those types of people were sent to remote villages to work as servants. And with that type of people I mean people like us. In North Korea we were at the bottom again. ”
So much so that his father’s work as a farmer was not enough to support his family. Apart from being even poorer than in Japan, Masaji had to live with an insult that accompanied him throughout his life in North Korea daily: “Bastardo japons”.
After finishing school, Masaji started working as a day laborer on farms. He had no option to choose another trade. There he began to see the arbitrary executions of dissidents, the concentration camps … He was a double father, he tried to hang himself for the helplessness of having nothing to feed his children, he lived the death of Kim Il-sung ( 1994) and criticism of his heir Kim Jong-il about the shortage of food rations.
“When the summer of 1995 came, we were truly terrified of the possibility of starvation. Then, in August, a tragedy occurred. A devastating flood affected southern Pyongyang province, a major cereal production area. That was the end of our rations. “Then Masaji said enough. It was time to go out and start a new flight, but this time back to Japan. If she stayed, she and her family would starve. But all together they will not escape. For this reason he saw how he was going to leave alone.
I managed to swim across the Yalu River and get to China. A few calls to the Japanese consulate in Shenyang City helped her return home. But don’t think that Masaji had a happy ending. In Japan, he never achieved economic stability or a way to get his people out of North Korea.
JAPANESE KIDNAPPED TO TRAIN NORTH KOREAN SPAS
The story of the Japanese activist has not had a happy ending either Shigeru Yokota. His story has a common setting with Masaji’s, but a totally different background. The North Korean agents kidnapped her daughter in 1977 when she left the school room and they took her to North Korea. She, Megumi, was a 13 year old teenager. Since then, her father has not stopped struggling to try to locate her and bring her back home. But Shigeru (87 years old) passed away on June 5 in Kawasaki.
Back leaves an association with the mission of attempt to return all Japanese – 17 officially, though more than a hundred according to families – kidnapped by the North Korean government during the 70s and 80s. He also managed, thanks to his persistence, that these kidnappings would occupy a first line of debate and discussion in Japanese civil and political society. Apparently, these kidnapped They forced them to assist in the training of North Korean spas, teaching them the Japanese language and Japanese culture..
Movies have been made about activist Shigeru’s fight to get his daughter back. Even, Six years ago, he and his wife managed to meet one of his granddaughters., a daughter Megumi would have had in North Korea with a South Korean who was also kidnapped. That meeting took place in Mongolia and was agreed by the Pyongyang and Tokyo authorities, but Megumi never appeared.
In 2002, the North Korean regime acknowledged that Shigeru’s daughter had been kidnapped, but that she had died.. His alleged remains, along with those of other kidnapped Japanese, were returned two years later to Tokyo. But DNA tests came back negative. Among those remains were not those of Shigeru’s daughter, a fighter who has died in the hope that his daughter is still alive.
According to the criteria of