Kim Jong-Il's sushi chef praises dead leader's son after flying visit to Korea

 

Tokyo

Few foreigners get an invitation to the inner circle of North Korea's first family. But Kenji Fujimoto, who has just returned from a meeting with leader Kim Jong-Un inside the reclusive, nuclear-armed state, has been there before.

For 12 years, the Japanese man was the personal sushi chef of Kim's gourmet-loving father, Kim Jong-Il, until he fled in 2001, leaving behind his North Korean wife and children. He has spent the time since writing tell-all books about his life in the north, charging cash for interviews and living the life of a semi-recluse because he says his life is in danger.

When he appears in public, Mr Fujimoto disguises himself with a bandana and sunglasses. All of which makes his return to Pyongyang very mysterious to some.

In Beijing last week, on his way back to Tokyo, Mr Fujimoto insisted there were no hard feelings between the two men. "He [Kim Jong-Un] told me, 'long time no see'," he told reporters. "Then he said, 'you're welcome here any time'." The once heavyset teenager had become "tubbier", he added and looked "more like a leader".

The Japanese media, which follows every twitch of the North's monolithic face, speculates that Mr Fujimoto was carrying backchannel messages from the Japanese government to the Kim regime, or vice versa, a claim he denied.

"I did not visit North Korea to conduct government business," he told reporters. The two sides have no diplomatic relations, making an insider a valuable commodity at a time when some believe that Tokyo is again trying to knock on the North's backdoor.

Mr Fujimoto's reputation was boosted when he correctly predicted two years ago that the ailing Kim Jong-Il would name his youngest son as his successor.

In fact, says the ex-chef, he knew years earlier on Jong-Un's ninth birthday, that his fate had been decided. The young Prince was his father's favourite, he recalls, a strong-willed boy who "knew how to lead people," unlike his "timid" older brother Kim Jong Chul, who famously tried to visit Tokyo Disneyland on a forged passport in 2001.

Fujimoto started working for the family household in 1988. He first met the future leader when he was a seven-year-old boy, an encounter Fujimoto remembers as being "tense." Kim Jong-Un glared at the chef as if he was "one of the notorious Japanese imperial soldiers," he told Time magazine, before yielding and shaking hands.

Later Mr Fujimoto would take a now famous snap of the 11-year-old Kim sporting a pudding-bowl haircut, for years the only available image of the future leader.

In his books, he describes the future dictator rollerblading, driving a specially adapted Mercedes Benz and sneaking into his room for clandestine cigarette breaks, away from the prying eyes of his father.

Under increasing surveillance, Mr Fujimoto left for Japan 11 years ago, ostensibly for kitchen supplies. Before he left, he told Jong-Un that he would return – a lie that makes him cry every time he recalls it in public.

Quite why the chef was invited back remains a mystery. Japanese broadcaster TBS reportedly paid for the two-week trip and sent a TV crew to film the encounter, but is saying nothing. Perhaps Kim, who some believe will reform his impoverished nation, was trying to send a signal back to Tokyo with the invitation to his old friend?

Mr Fujimoto has declined comment on that too, but he says he believes Kim is sincere about reform. "He can lead North Korea in a good direction," he told Time. "What his grandfather Kim Il Sung couldn't do, and what his father Kim Jong Il couldn't do, will be done by Kim Jong Un."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine