Missing Person of the Cold War: Liberation Report on Megumi Yokota

The following article is a stub; translation of the complete article should be posted in a few hours’ time. –A.C.  More to follow….

Arnaud Vaulerin, “Japan. Disparu de la Guerre Froide [Japan: Disappeared in the Cold War],” Liberation, 11 March 2009.

Megumi Yokota, following the example of a dozen Japanese, was kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s: Her case continues to poison the relations between the two states.


Ils sont assis sur le bord du canapé, droits et soudés. Sur la table basse ornant le hall de leur immeuble cossu de Kawasaki, à une trentaine de kilomètres au sud de Tokyo, ils ont posé deux dossiers bleus. Sakie et Shigeru Yokota y rangent toutes les images de leur fille Megumi. Des clichés jaunis côtoient des photos aux couleurs vives, seules traces de leur aînée, enlevée à l’âge de 13 ans par des espions nord-coréens. Trente-deux ans plus tard, les jeunes parents sont devenus des septuagénaires «fatigués», qui n’ont pourtant «pas perdu espoir» de revoir leur fille. Depuis cette nuit d’automne, ils n’ont cessé de frapper à toutes les portes, passant, au gré des recherches, de l’exaltation la plus vive au plus profond abattement.

They sit on the edge of the sofa, hands welded together. On the coffee table decorating the hall of their opulent home in Kawasaki, about thirty kilometers south of Tokyo, they lay out two blue files. There, Sakie and Shigeru Yokota tidily arrange all the images of their daughter Megumi. Yellowed pictures go alongside photos in lively colors, the only traces of their elder daughter, kidnapped at the age of 13 by North Korean spies. Thirty-two years later, these young parents have became tired septuagenarians.  “Nevertheless,” they say,  “[we have] not lost hope ” to see their daughter again. On this night of the Japanese autumn, they knock ceaselessly on all the doors, amid many passer-by, moving through this search into the most living ecstasy and the most profound dejection.


L’histoire de Megumi aurait pu rester un tragique fait divers. Mais sa disparition – et celle de onze autres Japonais kidnappés par Pyongyang dans les années 70-80 – est devenue une cause nationale brandie par Tokyo de sommets internationaux en visites d’Etat. Après des décennies de silence, c’est un battage continu. Dans ce pays qui dévore des mangas par millions, le gouvernement a fait réaliser une BD sur l’histoire de la jeune fille, suivie d’un dessin animé en 2008. La mère de Megumi vient de faire traduire en anglais un livre de souvenirs sur sa longue quête. La télévision NHK a reçu des injonctions pour multiplier les reportages sur ses chaînes. Chaque année en décembre, a lieu une «semaine des disparus». Et un ruban bleu les commémorant a été dessiné, aux couleurs de la Mer du Japon qui sépare l’archipel de la Corée du Nord.

The history of Megumi could have remained a tragedy apart.  But this disappearence — and that of the 12 other Japanaese kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s — has become a national cause brandished by Tokyo in international summits and state visits.  After decades of silence, it is a battle that continues.

In this state which devours manga by the millions, the government has created a BD [bande desinée / comic book] of the history of this young girl, followed by an animated film [anime / dessin animé] in 2008.  (Translator’s note: the manga was published by Futabasha in Tokyo.)

Megumi’s mother has written a book about her long quest, and had it translated into English.  NHK television receives injunctions to multiply reportage of the book via its network affiliates.  Every year in December, a “Week for the Disappeared” takes place.  And blue ribbons commemorate, drawn with the colors of the Sea of Japan which separates the archipelago from North Korea.

Missile Tests

Of the seventy Japanese which Tokyo accuses Japan of abducting, only five returned in 2002.

This case has passed well beyond the first step of contentious bilateral issues.  It perturbs the discussions on North Korean denuclearization, paralyszes the nornalisation of relations between the tyo states and reveals the errors of Japanese diplomacy.

Mid-February in Tokyo, on her first trip abroad as chief American diplomat, Hillary clinton demanded that the communist regime resolve the problem, afterwords stating that “the question of kidnapping should be part of the Six-Party Talks; this case has a better chance of advancing if it is integrated with global discussions.”  No matter how full her agenda, Barack Obama’s Secretary of State uses her time to meet the kin of the disappeared, most notably the mother of Megumi.

Additional resources: This VOA report on “Abduction” describes an American documentary about Megumi Yokota’s case shown in Paris.    Megumi’s mother has written a book about her experience; it is now available in English.  Joshua Stanton, about the most staunchly anti-North Korean human rights Republican Washington D.C. Jewish deist former U.S. Army prosecutor I know, gives some analysis of the book on his incomparable One Free Korea blog.  Both the Washington Post and Asia Times report on Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Megumi’s mother.

Reports on Ai Weiwei {II}

Teresa Lengl of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Ai Weiwei’s institutional host for the coming months, reports:

Gestern musste Ai Weiwei in München wegen starker Kopfschmerzen einen Arzt aufsuchen. Seit er in China von Polizisten verprügelt wurde, plagten ihn  Kopfschmerzen, die sich durch den Flug am 12. September noch verschlimmerten. Den Schlag ins Gesicht bekam Ai Weiwei im August nach seiner Verhaftung – die Regierung hatte ihn so davon abhalten wollen, bei einem Prozess auszusagen, der wegen korruptionsvorwürfen im zusammenhang mit dem Erdbeben von sichuan angestrengt worden war.

Yesterday Ai Weiwei had severe headaches and had to seek out a doctor.  Ever since he was battered by police in China, he has been afflicted by headaches, which worsened during his flight on 12 September.  Ai Weiwei received that punch in the face in August after his detention — the regime in this way prevented him from speaking out about a trial regarding accusations of intense corruption in combination with the Sichuan earthquake.

Well, the reason for the urgency of his surgery now appears slightly more clear.  More updates from German media as they come available.

Ai Weiwei with an EEG in Munich University Hospital (courtesy Hausderkunst blog)

Ai Weiwei with an EEG in Munich University Hospital (courtesy Hausderkunst blog)

Beijing Drum Tower/French Opera Mash-up

This summer in my adopted Beijing neighborhood on Jiugulou Dajie (Old Drum Tower Street), Danwei reported on an eviction of a popular fruit stand on account of having to clear the way for a #8 line subway station.  Well, the Douban group where this material was discussed  is, of course, wiped from the slate of memory.

“呃…你想访问的页面不存在” heralds the age of the Chinese memory hole.

Fortunately the Danwei editors performed a stellar translation; the original indignant posting in Chinese, along with photos, still exists here.

38 Jiugulou Dajie, courtesy of Dongdong Qiang de Qiang

38 Jiugulou Dajie, courtesy of Dongdong Qiang de Qiang

I was off on the North Korean border during the eviction, but walked past those blue bunk beds every day.  Like a John Kerry for President bumper sticker on a rusty Honda civic in rural Ohio in 2007, these evicted people refused to accept their exiled status, and were clinging to both hope and anger.

Here is my artistic response to the eviction:  It is a simple mash-up of my footage of the area adjacent to the old fruit stand, and my interpretation, in Seattle, of a plangent melody by French opera composer Jaques Offenbach, who lived at the footstep of L’Opera and enjoyed his coffee in the clangor and construction of fin-de-siecle Paris.   So it is Beijing meets Seattle meets Paris, but the dynamic of lamentation (which itself occurs in newly-constructed buildings) for the destruction of the old remains stable.

Later I hope to post more cello-inflected mash-ups that reflect China’s, and my own, debut-de-millienaire sensibilities.  For some reason exposure to Ai Weiwei’s furious joy always emboldens me to think freely about such things.

Reports on Ai Weiwei

Danwei reports that artist Ai Weiwei is undergoing surgery in Germany as a consequence of being bashed on the head by police in Chengdu.

German newspaper sites such as Suddeutscher Zeitung, which carried a longer article about Ai entitled “Forbidden Truths [Verbotene Wahrheiten]” on August 14, have yet to pick up the story.  Frankfurter Rundschau ran a nice extended profile of Ai on August 17 entitled “Der Ritterschlag.”

Ai’s Twitter feed indicates he was admitted to Munich University Hospital on 14 September:

未-未艾于德国时间9月14日上午到慕 尼黑大学医院就诊。慕尼黑最好的外科医生已经对他进行了检查,结果是“重挫造成的外颅与脑体间大面积出血”,医生建议立即进行手术,手术可能安排德国时间 9月14日下午或9月15日上午。未未现在正在医院等待手术,谢谢大家关心,他让大家不要担心。

According to this 29 August report in Bayern Magazin, Ai was scheduled to be a guest at the Haus der Kunst in Munich from 12 October 2009-January 2010 for an exhibition entitled “So Sorry.”  I will be keeping tabs on this story in the German press and internet and will blog updates as more information becomes available.

More photos are available via the artist’s Twitter feed.

Ai Weiwei in Munich University Hospital, 15 Sept. 2009

Ai Weiwei in Munich University Hospital, 15 Sept. 2009

On Megumi Yokota: Doggerel One

Japan is hatin’ on DPRK
Koizumi’s plume done led the way
When Kim abducted you say?
The DPRK gotta send Megumi home.//
//But they said she killed herself in a fit of despair
Her parents want ashes, yet Kim forswear
Apologies and memories mingle up with force
Like a mini-submarine rising off the Niigata coast//
//KCNA drops bombs while J-pop drops beats oblivious
Tumescent and lugubrious, the peasants plant peat
outside the port of Wonson, where ships await
trawlers, refugees returning from Manchurian food forays