TOKYO - Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was kidnapped by North Korean agents on her way home from school in the coastal Japanese city of Niigata.
An innocent girl who loved to play badminton and sing, she was taken by boat to North Korea in 1977, never to be seen in her homeland again.
Thirty-seven years on, the name "Megumi" has become a painful symbol of Japan's anger at Pyongyang's Cold War abduction of its nationals to train spies in Japanese language and customs.
Now North Korea's pledge to reinvestigate all abduction cases has given a ray of hope to her ageing parents, and to the families of other kidnap victims whose fate is unknown.
When Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, it said eight of them, including Yokota, had died. Japan disputes this.
The regime said Yokota killed herself in 1994 after marrying an abductee from South Korea and giving birth to a baby girl.
In 2004, it handed over cremated remains it claimed were hers. However, Tokyo said DNA tests conducted in Japan proved the claim to be untrue.
Unconfirmed information trickling out of the secretive state - through defectors and other sources - has indicated she was alive after 1994.
Media reports have even suggested the regime will not let her go because Yokota became close to the ruling family, and even tended to leader Kim Jong-Un as a child.
The refusal to come clean on the abduction cases has been a major stumbling block in frozen ties between the two countries.
But the first signs of a thaw came in March when Yokota's parents spent five days with their granddaughter, 26-year-old Kim Eun-Gyong, in Mongolia.
The meeting, arranged by the Tokyo and Pyongyang governments, preceded a resumption of official talks that led this week to agreement that all abductions would be reinvestigated - and the reawakening of hope that the torment might one day be over.
"I believe (Megumi) is definitely alive," her mother told reporters. "With a mind full of prayers, I hope things will move forward."