Park Young-sook lost two brothers and two sons who were charged with political crimes. She is originally from Hiroshima. (Taken by Koda Hajime)

"I saw a dark and strange-looking cloud rising up in the distance and said, 'What is that?'"

On the morning of August 6, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Park Young-sook watched the mushroom cloud rise from Yamagata District, Hiroshima Prefecture- where she had been recently evacuated to. Nine days later, Japan surrendered. When Park returned to Hiroshima, her house had disappeared without a trace. Her sister-in-law had died in the explosion.

There were an estimated 50,000 Koreans living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. Seventeen years after watching the mushroom cloud rise as a 5 years-old child, Park joined thousands of other Koreans in returning to North Korea as part of the “Homecoming Project”. Now, however, Park is a North Korean defector.

◆The Homecoming Project

The Homecoming Project, which started in 1959 and lasted for 25 years, allowed around 93,000 people, including 7,000 with Japanese citizenship, to relocate to North Korea. Among them, there were an estimated 2,000 people who survived the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (The current number of survivors is said to be about 50.)

Remarkably, about 2 out of every 13 Zainichi Koreans living in Japan at the time decided to return to North Korea aboard the ships departing from Nigata. Although the event is widely referred to as the first mass migration from a capitalist country to a socialist state, little is known about the actual lives of those who returned North Korea.

Next page: “They kept me from seeing my son’s body.”...