Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific header image 2

Japanese – Rachi | Yuukai

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Japanese, Kidnapping

拉致 (らち)


ra – kidnap; crush
chi – do; cause; exert; incur; engage

誘拐 (ゆうかい)


yuu – entice; tempt; ask; invite; seduce
kai – kidnap; falsify


Relates to kidnapping

Both of these Sino-Japanese terms relate to the word ‘kidnapping’ ; however, 拉致 (rachi) is closer to the meaning ‘abduction’ and誘拐 (yuukai) is closer to the meaning, ‘kidnapping.’ While an incident of ‘yuukai’ implies that contact with the victim’s family and ransom demands will follow, ‘rachi’ implies that the victims have totally disappeared, and that one never knows why they were taken. This term ‘rachi’ expresses a threat to the Japanese nation. ‘Rachi’, unlike ‘yuukai’, implies violent kidnapping with an element of nastiness or poor treatment that distinguishes the experience from other abductions.

In the context of the phrase 拉致事件 rachi jiken “abduction incidents” or 拉致問題 rachi mondai “abduction problem”, abduction refers almost exclusively to the abduction of Japanese nationals from isolated parts of Japan and from Europe by North Korean agents in the late 1970’s. A total of fifteen people are thought to have been abducted. Evidence of their abductions and of North Korean involvement started to appear in the 1980’s but were strenuously denied by North Korea until 2002, when, in a surprising about-face it acknowledged the abduction of thirteen Japanese nationals, eight of whom it said had subsequently died in North Korea, and whose burial sites had been washed away in rains. The remaining five were allowed to visit Japan that year, but once there the Japanese government then decided to keep them in Japan.[1]

One reason that this word is so important for the Japanese is that, apart from the larger threat to Japan played by North Korea’s nuclear program, these abduction incidents have been the focus of Japan’s relationship with North Korea – especially in the last five to six years. Initially, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had played down the possibility of abductions having occurred, and was reluctant to even ask North Korea about them for fear of disturbing the sensitive relationship that the two countries have. Strong domestic pressure from Japanese politicians opposed to closer ties with North Korea and from abduction victims support groups eventually led to a firmer government stance on the issue. It has also been taken up with great vigour in the press, to the extent that in coverage of the recent (2005) six-party talks that took place in China to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue, the abduction issue took up as much space in the papers, even though this was not on the agenda for the talks.

The resonance of ‘rachi’ and the abduction issue within public narratives is grounded in two factors. First, this issue carries the possibility that the same situation may happen to any Japanese citizen. Compared to the nuclear issue, people in Japan can easily sympathize with any family which has had a member abducted. The Japanese media focus on the abduction issue and Japanese politicians use this to cite their foreign policy stance, impressing upon the public that they have the ability to control external influences to Japan. For example, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a famous supporter for the ‘Abductees’ Family Association’ (拉致被害者家族会 rachi kazoku kai). Politicians can use the abduction issue – as opposed to the nuclear issue – more easily to display their strong external policy stance.

Secondly, the respective solutions for the abduction issue and the North Korean nuclear development or disarmament issue are characterised by widely different approaches. Many people in Japan believe that Japan can or should solve this ‘rachi’ issue independently, without depending on the U.S. or other countries. They have an image that this issue depends on the politicians to some degree. If the Prime Minister or politicians can display strong leadership and the determination (many highlight the example of Prime Minister Koizumi who played a key role in returning the abductees to Japan) the public believes there is a chance to solve the ‘rachi’ issue bilaterally. On the other hand, in terms of the North Korean disarmament issue, international co-operation and multilateral frameworks is required, such as the 6 Party Talks. The public are aware that Japan alone cannot solve this issue without any help or cooperation from other countries. The public recognises that the U.S. and China have much greater diplomatic leverage. In this sense, the Japanese public are often considered to not show interest in the North Korean nuclear issue and why the media and some politicians focus on the abduction issue rather than declaring their decision or commitment to the North Korean disarmament issue.

The importance of this issue clearly illustrates the power of the in-group/ out-group dichotomy in Japan. The in-group here is that of Japanese nationals, and they are all a part of the Japanese family. As such they have responsibilities to the Japanese family and the Japanese family has responsibilities to them. Here a comparison with the two Japanese teachers kidnapped in Iraq in 2010 is fruitful. These Japanese nationals travelled to Iraq on their own accord, were kidnapped, and subsequently released. Upon their return to Japan they were roundly criticised in the press and by the government for having put themselves in danger in this way. They had clearly failed in their responsibilities to the Japanese family. On the other hand the victims of rachi were perceived as being “innocent” in this regard, and consequently any outside danger that should befall them was viewed as a strong threat to the Japanese family as a whole.



[1] See M. H. I. Teuben’s 2004 unpublished University of Amsterdam MA thesis “Japan and North Korea: How the abduction issue has frozen bilateral relations” for a detailed discussion of the issue.


No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment