I graduated from university with a Masters thesis researching and analysing the abduction issue* which was dominating bilateral relations between Japan & North Korea at that time, 2004. So that is quite some time ago.
When I started researching this topic – the North Korean confession in 2002 of having abducted Japanese citizens broke when I was living in Osaka – many people said that this was a non-issue. One of those issues which Japan cares about (strongly), but which ultimately have no further effect and don’t require academic attention. I disagreed, and I think my thesis was convincing on this point. The abduction issue has been a major obstacle in improving bilateral relations between these two countries ever since, much more so than the nuclear threat from North Korea or any other topics that are important on the Korean peninsula.
The East Asia forum published an article today which gives a good overview (with lots of useful links) of recent developments, mainly spurred by Shinzo Abe becoming Japan’s PM again in December 2012. And it shows that it is still one of Japan’s leading foreign policy concerns vis-a-vis North Korea.
And honestly, I can’t quite grasp how an issue like this (yes, it is bizarre to think that your citizens would be kidnapped by another country for spying purposes) can continue for so long.
* if you are interested to obtain a copy, please get in touch