KOFU, Japan (Reuters) – It has been more than 30 years since the identical twin sister of Japanese teacher Misa Morimoto vanished, believed to have been abducted by North Korea.
Hopes for her return have often surged and ebbed since, tracing the ups and downs of ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
Now, Morimoto, 54, is cautiously optimistic that a planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday could bring news of the sister who resembled her so much that few could tell them apart.
In 2002, North Korea admitted it kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train them as spies. Five returned to Japan, though Tokyo suspects hundreds more may have been taken.
In 2014, Pyongyang promised new information about the Japanese it kidnapped, but never made good on the pledge, shattering many relatives’ hopes.
“Four years ago, we all expected everybody would soon come home, and we ended up despairing,” Morimoto told Reuters at the home where she grew up with her sister Miho in the central Japanese city of Kofu.
Miho disappeared on June 4, 1984 after setting out for a library. Her motorbike was found at a nearby train station the next day and her handbag discovered on an isolated beach, 360 km (220 miles) away, near where two abductees were seized.
Morimoto has met other families who believed their loved ones might be in North Korea. She has been struck by the similar aspects of their accounts, such as the remote beach, and silent telephone calls to family homes cut off shortly after being answered. On some, Miho’s family had heard muffled sobs.
The agenda for the Trump-Kim summit is not known, although the US. president has said he hopes to start negotiating an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
But Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged Trump to keep the abductee issue, a key plank of the premier’s political programme, central to the talks. Trump has met the families of abductees several times and brought up the issue in speeches.
US pressure could make a difference, Morimoto said, citing three US citizens held in North Korea who were freed last month.
For years, Morimoto has awaited word of her sister. A special education teacher with three grown children, she has just became a grandmother.
“The stress can be very bad,” she said. “But if I give up, if I lose hope, everything will be over. I have to hold on to hope no matter what happens.”