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, and dozens also disappeared from Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East during the same period.
Some were lured onto airplanes by the prospect of lucrative jobs abroad; others were simply gagged, thrown into bags, and transported by boat to North Korea. Their families spent years searching for the missing, checking mortuaries, hiring private detectives and soothsayers. Only five were ever seen again.