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."

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Systems & Data Lead – Oxfordshire – Permanent – Up to £24k

£20000 - £24000 Per Annum 28 days holiday, free parking, pension: Clearwater P...

Digital Media Manager

£38000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Primary Supply Teacher in Stevenage

£115 - £121 per day: Randstad Education Luton: primary teacher Hertfordshire

Year 3 & Year 4 Teachers Wanted

£115 - £121 per day: Randstad Education Luton: year 3 & 4 teacher Hertfordshir...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?