The group famously committed Japan’s first airliner hijacking in early 1970, taking over Japan Airlines Flight 351 (nicknamed Yodogō) and flying it to North Korea, where they have been stuck ever since. The remaining members of the group (hijackers and spouses) live in relative comfort at the Revolution Village complex in North Korea, where they occasionally entertain visitors.
Long accused of involvement with abductions of Japanese citizens to North Korea, the Yodogō Group has attempted to present its version of events through publications in Japan and even brought litigation against the government in 2013. It also started using Twitter in late 2014. Users can ask questions via social media and the emailed responses are collected by supporters in Japan, who then post them online at regular intervals.
Arrest warrants have been issued for one of the hijackers and two spouses related to abductions, which they refute and maintain is part of the political game of diplomatic chess played out between Japan and North Korea. While some original members of the group have died, one was apprehended abroad and extradited to Japan in 2000, and another was caught after sneaking back into the country in the 1980s. Most of the hijackers’ wives (as well as their children) returned in the 2000s, facing prosecution and imprisonment for various charges. The children have passports and are able to go back to visit their fathers, but the wives who returned are denied passports and cannot travel.
The new website, Yodogō Nihonjinmura (Yodogō Japanese Village), is a clean and accessible media platform. Its homepage has an image of the six remaining members (Shirō Akagi, Moriaki Wakabayashi, Kimihiro Uomoto/Abe, Sakiko Wakabayashi/Kuroda, Takahiro Konishi and Yoriko Mori) posing casually on the lawn of their complex, satellite dishes in the background and a slogan saying “Welcome to the Yodogō Japanese Village” splashed over the image in red. The content has many large and warm photographs showing the “terrorists” in their domestic surroundings. Their profiles feature little details about hobbies, favourite TV shows and interests alongside the starker facts of their political backgrounds.
The way it is written and laid out, including a Q&A and chronology sections, is clearly aimed at people with little or no prior information about the group, with the intention of forming a consistent and reliable resource to challenge Wikipedia and the mainstream media accounts of the group, which generally follow the government line.
There are also video interviews, shot earlier this year by a young film-maker currently working on a detailed documentary about Sekigun.
With President Trump’s bullish stance on the Japanese abductees issue and the current tensions in East Asia over Pyongyang’s missile tests, the timing of this latest chapter in the Yodogō Group saga is, depending on one’s perspective, either apt or provocative.
In addition, Kōji Takazawa’s award-winning book, which made the abduction claims well known in the 1990s, was translated into English and published this year. Another recent book, The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project by Robert S. Boynton, also covers some of the allegations. It was published in early 2016 and a Japanese translation came out this past August.
The Yodogō Group was already in the headlines again this year. The famous physician Shigeaki Hinohara, who was one of the hostages on JAL Flight 351, died in July at the age of 105. His erstwhile hijackers had sent him North Korean gifts for his 100th birthday and their condolence message was quoted in the media. Takaya Shiomi, the original founder and leader of Sekigun-ha, also passed away in November. Though they are safe from extradition, in another sense time is running out for the Yodogō Group.