TOKYO (CNN) -

As diplomats in Beijing discuss reopening the investigation into a string of unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the families of those abducted anxiously wait and hope.

For years, they've been seeking answers in the mysterious disappearance of their loved ones. The bulk of the abductions took place nearly four decades ago and the families of those taken have endured the agony of uncertainty, never knowing what truly transpired.

Now, with talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang scheduled to begin today in the Chinese capital, those left behind to wonder what happened to their disappeared relatives are hopeful that they will finally get some answers.

Spate of abductions

According to the Japanese government, North Korean operatives kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens in the late 1970's and early 1980's, possibly dozens more.

Some were kidnapped alone, while walking to and from school. Others were taken in pairs while out on dates, including a couple snatched from the beach after walking to see the sunset.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to the kidnappings for the first time but allowed only five abduction victims to return home to Japan. Information on the remaining 12 was sketchy at best.

One victim's story

One of those still missing is Yaeko Taguchi, who disappeared from Tokyo on June 12, 1978.

The 22-year-old divorced single mother was working nights as a hostess at Tokyo's Cabaret Hollywood, which remains open 36 years later.

"When (Taguchi) disappeared, we thought she just quit and left," says general manager Sueji Kikuchi, who has worked there for over 50 years. "Things like that happened a lot so we never would have thought that she had been abducted."

At the time, Kikuchi didn't know that North Korean operatives were canvassing the cabaret, a fact police later disclosed to Taguchi's older brother, Shigeo Iizuka.

Ideal candidate

"At the time, North Korea had a specific agenda, (and) abducted people that would further this agenda," Iizuka said.

"Yaeko was thought to have known everything that was needed to know about being a Japanese woman; she had experienced marriage and childbirth, and knew about cosmetics and feminine magazines and other trends at the time. At the time, being 22 years old, she had been singled out."

Iizuka didn't know the truth about his sister's abduction for nearly a decade. He and his wife adopted her son, Kouichi, and told him they were his real parents. They never mentioned Taguchi. Her daughter was adopted by another couple, and has never spoken publicly about the situation.

"I promised myself when her son turned twenty, I would tell him the truth," Iizuka says.

Secret revealed

But in 1987, the bombing of a Korean airliner revealed the truth. 115 people died when Korean Air Flight 858 exploded in mid-air, and a North Korean spy, Kim Hyun-Hui, was arrested. She confessed to planting a bomb on the plane, and also revealed the biggest clue yet in Taguchi's disappearance.

"After the bombing, (Kim) testified that she was trained by a Japanese woman," Iizuka says. "Police thoroughly investigated and found her teacher was my sister."

It was later revealed that North Korean agents abducted Taguchi and took her to North Korea by boat.

"I feel anger and hate I can't put into words," Iizuka says. "Why would she be taken (to North Korea)? She was a hard-working single mother who never did anything wrong."

The Japanese government says North Korea claims Taguchi died in a car accident in 1986, but hasn't provided proof, according to her son.

Alive or dead?

"The evidence given by North Korea was questionable," the younger Iizuka says. "There is no clear proof that she's dead. There were no names on the documents submitted.