A former U.S. Army sergeant has begun new a life on a remote Japanese island with his Japanese family, ending a saga that began 39-years ago when he stepped across a military line into North Korea.
Charles Jenkins, riding in a mini-van with his wife and two daughters, received a police escort out of the U.S. military's Camp Zama south of Yokohama.
After a 12-hour journey, the family arrived on remote Sado Island in the Sea of Japan, the hometown of Jenkins's wife, Hitomi Soga.
Jenkins was emotional on arriving in his new home. The 64-year-old told reporters he wants to spend the last days of his life there, quietly, with his family.
"This is my first visit to Sado, of course, but over the past 20 years I spent in North Korea I sought the beautiful and quiet of this land, this island, which many times before were in my mind," he said.
Ms. Soga, with tears in her eyes, told reporters she was relieved to be home for the first time with all of her family members.
Ms. Soga says she is concerned about how well her husband and children will adjust. Jenkins speaks no Japanese and their daughters are struggling to learn the language.
The journey to the family's new home took only half a day, but the trip took Jenkins 39 years, from the time in 1965 when he deserted from his U.S. Army unit in South Korea and crossed the border into North Korea.
He later said he was hoping to go on to the Soviet Union and then back to the United States. He wound up trapped instead in the Stalinist state, where he later met his wife, who was kidnapped from Japan by North Korean agents in 1978.
Pyongyang allowed Ms. Soga to return to Japan in 2002 with four other abductees, but it took two years to arrange for Jenkins and the couple's two daughters to join her. Part of the problem was that Jenkins, who was still officially in the U.S. Army, feared he would be prosecuted for deserting.
Last month, he was convicted in a U.S. Army court of desertion. Under pressure from the Japanese to treat Jenkins leniently, he was sentenced to only one month in prison, and he served only three weeks of that, with time off for good behavior.
His final military discharge will be completed in a few weeks.
The conclusion to the saga began with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2002.
Mr. Koizumi inquired about a number of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea during the Cold War, and he was told that not only were five abductees still alive, but that one of them, Ms. Soga, had married Jenkins.
Mr. Koizumi's prodding helped lead to the release of the five abductees along with their children, and eventually, Ms. Soga's family.
North Korea has admitted kidnapping 12 Japanese to train its spies, but says seven of them have died.