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Shigeo Iizuka still has the black-and-white photo of his little sister, Yaeko, stuck on the inside cover of his pocket diary.It was June 1978, when the 22-year-old suddenly disappeared, taken from the bustling heart of Tokyo and transferred to North Korea to be used as a teacher of Japanese language and customs for the spies of Kim Jong-il, the son of the leader of the time, Kim Il-sung.
“No one can imagine the tragedy that we have been through. I still yearn for the years I spent with my sister,” sighs Iizuka, a Japanese engineer who is still working at the age of 75.
Sitting in a quaint restaurant in Ageo, a town in Tokyo’s sprawling suburbs, he looks down at the photo of the young woman – she looks sad, her face framed by her long hair. At the time, she was working as a waitress in a bar in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighbourhood.
She was divorced and had two young children. After he learned of his sister’s disappearance, Iizuka rushed to her apartment. Everything seemed to be in order. Yaeko had left no note, no trace.
She would come back, he told himself. However, one week passed, then one month, then two, and still she had not returned. 30-four years have now gone by.