The Invitation-Only Zone is lively and beautifully written [and] displays an admirably objective and nuanced perspective.

— Bruce Cumings, The American Scholar

People began disappearing from Japan’s coastal towns and cities in the fall of 1977. A security guard vacationing at a seaside resort two hundred miles northwest of Tokyo vanished in midSeptember. In November, a thirteen- year- old girl walking home from badminton practice in the port town of Niigata was last seen eight hundred feet from her family’s front door. The next July two young couples, both on dates, though in different towns on Japan’s northwest coast, disappeared. One couple left behind the car they’d driven to a local “make- out” spot; the other abandoned the bicycles they’d ridden to the beach. What few knew at the time was that these people were abducted by an elite unit of North Korean commandos. Japanese were not the only victims… read on →

On the morning of October 16, 2002, I came across a photograph on page A-3 of The New York Times. In it, five middle- aged Japanese— two couples and a single woman, all wearing boxy 1950s- era suits, ties, and skirts— descending from a Boeing 767 at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. “Tears and Hugs as 5 Abducted Japanese go Home to Visit,” read the headline. As I stared at the photograph, my mind reeled with questions. Who were these people who had spent half their lives in the least accessible nation on earth? Why had they been abducted? What could they tell us about that secretive nation? Having divided their lives between Japan and North Korea, with which country did they identify? Had they been brainwashed? How many others had been abducted? read on →