North Korea reportedly says a Japanese noodle shop worker it was accused of kidnapping 41 years ago is living in Pyongyang, but he doesn't want to return home

  • Japan has for decades accused North Korea of abducting its citizens in the 1970s and 1980s for spy missions.
  • North Korean officials reportedly told Japan on Friday that a suspected kidnapping victim is in fact living in Pyongyang, Kyodo News reported.
  • Minoru Tanaka, a noodle shop employee in Kobe, disappeared in 1978 during a trip to Vienna.
  • He now lives with his wife and children in Pyongyang and doesn’t want to back to Japan, North Korean officials reportedly said.

North Korea reportedly told Japan that a Japanese citizen suspected to be kidnapped by the secretive regime 41 years ago is indeed living in Pyongyang, but that he doesn’t want to return home.

North Korea confirmed that Minoru Tanaka, who has been reported missing for decades, is currently living in Pyongyang with his wife and children, Kyodo News cited an unnamed Japanese government official as saying on Friday.

Tanaka, a noodle shop employee, went missing in 1978 while on a trip to Vienna, the Japan Times reported. Tanaka, who was 28 at the time, had been invited to the Austrian capital by the noodle shop owner, who was believed to be a spy in Pyongyang, the newspaper said.

Vienna austriaVitalyEdush/iStockA street scene in Vienna, where Japanese noodle shop employee Minoru Tanaka went missing.

Pyongyang officials told Japan that Tanaka had children after arriving in North Korea, and now doesn’t want to return to his native country, Kyodo reported.

North Korea also confirmed that Tatsumitsu Kaneda, a fellow Japanese citizen and Tanaka’s coworker at the noodle shop when he was abducted, is also in Pyongyang with his wife and children, Kyodo reported. He too, doesn’t want to go back to Japan, the news agency said.

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North Korea’s long history of kidnapping Japanese citizens

North Korea kidnapped more than a dozen Japanese citizens in the 1970s as part of its spy-training operations.

Pyongyang didn’t admit to the kidnappings until 2002, when then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il – the father and predecessor of Kim Jong Un – returned five abductees in an attempt to receive aid.

Japan has accused North Korea of kidnapping at least 17 of its citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, including the five returned in 2002. It remains a hot political issue as family members of the victims grow older.

US President Donald Trump publicly mentioned the abducted Japanese citizens in the run-up to his meeting with Kim Jong Un last April.

Takuya Yokota, whose 13-year-old sister was abducted in 1977, told a UN symposium last May that he didn’t know “how to express gratitude” to Trump for mentioning her in a speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2017.

Tokyo and Pyongyang currently have no official diplomatic relations, and have an uneasy past. North Korea was founded by Kim Il Sung – the first leader of North Korea and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather – in response to Japan’s forceful colonization of the Korean peninsula at the turn of the 20th century.

Over the past few years Japan has also struggled with the presence of “ghost ships” – vessels discovered with no living crew – believed to be from North Korea washed up on its shores.

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