In the 1970s and 1980s, the North Korean government conducted organized kidnappings of Japanese civilians as young as thirteen years old, apparently using victims' knowledge of Japanese language and culture to train North Korean spies. This astounding fact is, of course, a very big deal to Japan, especially given that only five victims (out of at least seventeen who were taken) were ever allowed to return to their home country. Those five abductees were returned in 2002, with North Korea claiming that the rest had died; Japan does not believe this version of events and has since pressed for more information. Pyongyang and Tokyo do not have formal diplomatic relations, but this week the North Koreans agreed to investigate the issue further in return for the easing of some sanctions. From the BBC:
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan would also consider providing humanitarian aid to North Korea, depending on how the investigation progressed.
He said that once it had recommenced, Tokyo would lift restrictions on travel, allow remittances to North Korea and lift an embargo on the entry to Japanese ports of North Korea-flagged ships with humanitarian missions.
It's good news, though only tentatively—a previous agreement, reached in 2008, ultimately did not produce any new information on the missing victims.