A woman who fled North Korea after living there for 43 years returned to the communist country Tuesday following nearly four years in Japan, saying she missed her children and found Japanese society unwelcoming.
To Chu Ji arrived in Pyongyang and was greeted by her family, who brought her a bouquet of flowers and embraced her, weeping.
Before leaving, To spoke at a rare news conference at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, saying she had been cheated by “bad people” into leaving North Korea in 2003.
She gave few details during the 20-minute session in which she kept her eyes on her hands. Reporters were not allowed to ask questions.
The motives behind the news conference were not clear, although it comes amid a dispute over North Korea’s alleged abduction of 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s that has blocked talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang on normalizing relations.
Thousands of North Koreans are also believed to have fled hunger and repression in the highly secretive, hard-line communist state, some taking refuge in foreign diplomatic missions in China. North Korea has at times accused South Korea and others of kidnapping such refugees. Beijing, North Korea’s leading ally and economic lifeline, frequently returns North Koreans captured in China.
During the embassy event, To said she merely wanted to tell her life story and explain the reason for her return to the North.
'Longing for my children'
To said she was born in Japan in 1949 and given a Korean name for her father and a Japanese name for her mother. The family moved to North Korea in 1960, she said.
To said she had five children in North Korea but left them to cross the Tumen River into China, where a waiting Jeep brought her to the Japanese consulate in the northeastern city of Shenyang.
Two weeks later, she was living in the Japanese town of Matsudo, where she said she led an isolated life. Telephone and letter exchanges with her children always ended in tears, she said, adding that she should go home to them instead of having them come to Japan.
“I became almost crazy with longing for my children,” said To, a bespectacled, soft-spoken woman dressed in a dark pantsuit. “I made my pillow wet with tears.”
At Pyongyang’s airport, To said reuniting with her family had been her only goal while she was in Japan.
“I was determined to come back without fail from the first day of my arrival,” she told APTN.
To said at the Beijing news conference that Japan of today was different from the country of her childhood.
“The Japanese, even if they live on the same floor of the same apartment, they don’t care about each other and don’t communicate with each other. ... It’s like they live alone,” she said. “At present, I feel that Japan is in general, cool, almost like ice.”
She also mentioned several high-profile murders that have rattled Japan in recent months.
“There was news that parents killed children and children killed parents,” To said. “After seeing this, I was afraid I would die without seeing my children again.”
To said she left Tokyo on June 21. She sang a song about missing one’s home and family before being escorted from the room by embassy officials.