After travelling to Canada to see the Northern Lights, Japanese tourist Atsumi Yoshikubo set out alone along the Ingraham Trail from Yellowknife. She subsequently disappeared, with her remains eventually being discovered almost a year later.
Trips to see the Northern Lights are extremely popular in Japan. There is a common folk belief that a child conceived under the Aurora Borealis will be blessed with good luck and health. The city of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories is a popular destination, with around 20% of the city’s total visitors coming from Japan. Many of the cafes and restaurants in the city offer menus in both English and Japanese to account for this influx of tourists.
45-year-old Atsumi Yoshikubo arrived in Yellowknife on 17th October 2014, travelling alone from her home city of Uto. Unlike most Japanese tourists that travel as part of an organised tour, she appears to have set her own itinerary. Arriving in the off-season for most aurora tours, Yoshikubo found after checking into her hotel that tours were shut down for the season. Snow cover is also light during October and November, too thin for dog-sledding and making the trails around Yellowknife swampy and difficult to distinguish.
As she was alone, the details of Yoshikubo’s last days are relatively vague. She was recorded at a gift and souvenir shop, Gallery at the Midnight Sun, twice on October 19th. Both times she was wearing a pink coat, pink hat and black trousers. She bought a selection of items, presumably souvenirs or as gifts for people back home.
During the early hours of the 22nd October, her hotel’s security cameras recorded her leaving, wearing the same clothes she had been wearing at the souvenir shop. At around 11:30am, a retired RCMP constable named Jessica Riehl passed Yoshikubo hiking along the Ingraham Trail, near to the city’s outer limits. Riehl only understood the significance of her sighting after she saw reports that Yoshikubo was missing, and reported it to police. The passing encounter on the trail would prove to be the last time Yoshikubo was seen alive. Riehl later described considering asking Yoshikubo if she needed help, but ultimately chose not to.
Three days after security cameras recorded her departing, hotel staff entered Yoshikubo’s room as she had overstayed her reservation. Inside, they found her luggage neatly packed. She was reported missing to the RCMP, who soon discovered that she had failed to board her flight home.
A large search was soon mounted for the missing woman, including RCMP aircraft and officers as well as Yellowknife locals. However, the Ingraham Trail passes through an enormous area of boreal forest, making the search difficult. The time of year also meant that the days were growing steadily shorter and colder.
Five Japanese news crews arrived in Yellowknife to cover the disappearance, which became headline news in Japan. On November 4th the RCMP called off the search, stating that their investigation, as well as that of the Japanese police, suggested Yoshikubo had deliberately traveled into the wilderness to get lost. They also stated that she had taken ‘steps to avoid detection’ but never elaborated on what those steps were. Effectively, police believed that Yoshikubo had committed suicide.
Yoshikubo’s brother appeared on Japanese TV, stating that his sister had sent a letter to a female friend describing her intention to take her own life in Canada. Somewhat strangely, he admitted that he had not actually read the letter, and while he believed it existed, he did not believe that Yoshikubo intended to kill herself. He pointed to her purchasing a return ticket and souvenirs or gifts as evidence that she intended to return to Japan.
In September 2015, the RCMP announced that personal items belonging to Yoshikubo had been found by a hiker close to the Ingraham trail. Alongside the items were bone fragments that were eventually shown via forensic testing to be those of the missing tourist.