AFTER being held captive for more than three years in Syria, Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda arrived home Thursday evening to be reunited with his family following an ordeal which he likened to “hell”.
Yasuda, who was released earlier this week and flown to Turkey before arriving at the Narita Airport just outside Tokyo, was greeted by his wife, parents and other relatives.
“I apologise for causing such trouble and worry, but thanks to all of you, I was able to come home safely,” he said in a brief statement read to media by his wife, as quoted by the AFP.
While on his flight to Tokyo, Yasuda held brief interviews with Japanese media, describing the nightmarish time while being held captive by Islamist militants.
Sporting a long beard peppered with grey hair, Yasuda said: “It was hell,”
“Not only physically, but mentally as well. The thought each day that ‘I’m not being released today either’ left me losing control over myself bit by bit.”
Despite the ordeal, Yasuda appeared healthy, although he was showing signs of fatigue.
“For about 40 months, I have not spoken a word of Japanese. Words don’t come to my mind easily,” he said.
“I am happy that I am returning to Japan. At the same time, I have no idea what will happen now and how I should conduct myself. I am at loss and don’t know what to think.”
His wife expressed relief that he was finally home.
“He is now eating rice balls and kimpira (a traditional dish) that his mother brought,” she told reporters.
“I felt a strong sense of happiness, of everyday, normal life,” she added. “I want him to take a warm bath and sleep in a futon tonight.”
The journalist was kidnapped in Syria in June 2015, and was reportedly held hostage by a group called the Al-Nusra Front, a former Al-Qaeda affiliate. However, the group’s current iteration, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham issued a statement denying their involvement.
Yasuda said he believed he was held in jihadist-controlled Idlib province, for most of his captivity and while details of how he was freed were unclear, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said a ransom was paid.
However, Japan’s government denies making any payment.
According to Reuters, Yasuda’s ordeal included being confined for eight months to a space just 1.5 metres high and 1 metre wide without being allowed to bathe, wash clothes or make any noise.
“Because I couldn’t wash my hair, my head itched – but when I scratched, that made noise,” he said.
“Breathing through my nose, cracking my knuckles, moving while I slept – everything was forbidden.”
He said at one point, he starved for 20 days in an effort to avoid any noise.
“I was skin and bones, horribly nauseated. If it had gone on much longer, I would probably have died, but I was finally moved to a different place,” he said.
“They would not bring me food, or if they did give me canned food, they would not bring a can opener,” he said.