On the evening of July 31, 1978, Kaoru Hasuike and his girlfriend, Yukiko Okudo, rode bikes to the summer fireworks festival at the Kashiwazaki town beach. They whisked down the winding lanes of their coastal farming village, a hundred and forty miles north of Tokyo. Then they parked their bikes and made their way past a crowd of spectators to a remote stretch of sand. As the first plumes rose in the sky, Kaoru noticed four men approaching. Cigarette in hand, one of them asked him for a light. As he reached into his pocket, the men attacked, gagging the couple, binding their hands and legs. “Keep quiet and we won’t hurt you,” one of the assailants said. Kaoru and Yukiko were thrown into separate sacks and loaded onto an inflatable raft. Peering through the sack’s netting, Kaoru saw the warm, bright lights of Kashiwazaki City fading into the background.
An hour later, he was transferred to a ship idling offshore and forced to swallow several pills: antibiotics to prevent his injuries from becoming infected, a sedative to put him to sleep, and medicine to relieve seasickness. Two nights later, he arrived in Chongjin, North Korea. Yukiko was nowhere in sight, and Kaoru’s captors told him that she had been left behind in Japan.