Japanese woman clings to hope that identical twin alive in North Korea

Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:03pm EDT
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By Elaine Lies

OTSUKI Japan (Reuters) - Misa Morimoto spoke to no one for 18 years about her identical twin sister who vanished when they were 20, not even to her own children. On the rare occasions when asked, she lied and said her sister was studying overseas.

But slowly the pain of uncertainty about her sister's fate was replaced by suspicion of the unthinkable - that her twin, Miho, an energetic girl who liked hiking with her and striking silly poses for the camera, was abducted by North Korea.

"It was the late 90s when news drifted out that people from Japan had perhaps been taken to North Korea. I'd watch this on TV with my parents and wonder if there was a connection to what had happened with Miho," Morimoto, now 50, told Reuters.

"It turned out they were thinking the same thing, but we were all too afraid to say it. We sat there in silence, thinking maybe she was in North Korea. The idea was incredible."

In 2002, North Korea admitted it had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies, and five of them returned to Japan. Tokyo suspects that hundreds more may have been taken.

A support group for "Special Missing Persons" says 77 are "strongly suspected" to have been abducted. This includes Miho, known by the twins' maiden name Yamamoto.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made solving the abduction issue a priority. And high-level talks have led the reclusive North to pledge to reopen investigations into the fate of all missing Japanese in return for Tokyo easing sanctions imposed over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile program.

North Korea has backtracked on previous promises. But Morimoto hopes that she may now learn about the sister so like her that the pair could swap classrooms and fool their teachers.   Continued...

Misa Morimoto, the 50-year-old identical younger twin of Miho Yamamoto, shows a photograph of Miho and herself wearing traditional Japanese clothes known as Kimono taken to celebrate their 20th birthdays in 1984, during an interview with Reuters in Otsuki city, Yamanashi prefecture, July 15, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino