Readers report sightings of vanished Japanese

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Readers report sightings of vanished Japanese

Since the JoongAng Ilbo reported Friday about Eriko Tanahashi, a Japanese widow who vanished without a trace in Korea a year ago, readers have reported sightings and a company offered a 10 million won ($8,884) reward for any information on her whereabouts or fate.

Tanahashi, from Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, was a fan of Korean soap operas, and when her husband died in 2005, she got fully swept up in the Korean hallyu, or wave, of cultural exports. She started studying Korean and visiting with her friends. On Dec. 28, 2009, she arrived alone in Seoul on a trip paid for by her daughters. She was last spotted eating dinner alone in a restaurant in Jumunjin, a coastal town in Gangneung, Gangwon, on Jan. 1, 2010. Police say her case is cold and they have no idea if Tanahashi, then 58-years-old, met an accident, was murdered or voluntarily disappeared.

Cho Seon-hui, a 54-year-old reader of the JoongAng Ilbo, reported that she saw a woman who closely resembled Tanahashi on Aug. 28, 2010, at Incheon International Airport. Cho said the woman, who looked Japanese, was wandering around the airport with her clothes in a garbage bag as if she had been staying at the airport for a long time.

Reader Lee Da-yeong sent an e-mail saying she met a Japanese woman in her 50s at the MBC Dream Center, a broadcasting studio in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, in July 2010.

Lee said the Japanese woman spoke in Korean and introduced herself as a big fan of actor Ryu Shi-won. (Tanahashi also liked Ryu, and her last contact with the world was when she sent photo files of Ryu to a friend in Japan via her cellphone on the evening of Jan. 1, 2010.) She also mentioned she had daughters, like Tanahashi.

“If I can help find her, I am willing to cooperate,” Lee wrote.

The JoongAng Ilbo gave the reports to Gangnam Police Station, which is handling the Tanahashi case, but police said it won’t be easy to find her because the clues are old.

Hinato Tanahashi, Eriko’s youngest daughter, sent a message from Japan yesterday saying she really appreciated Koreans showing interest in finding her mother.

Sunoo, a Korean matchmaking company, said yesterday that it will give 10 million won to anyone giving crucial information on the whereabouts of Tanahashi.


By Song Ji-hye, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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