Out of Korea: It's still quite a funny old colony

SEOUL - For much of the world, North Korea is a distant, malevolent Stalinist state that threatens to develop nuclear weapons. For the Japanese, the situation is slightly different. Korea was a colony of Japan until 1945 and it is frequently visited by Japanese political delegations, tour and study groups. There are 200,000 ethnic Koreans whose families originated in the North now living in Japan, mostly descendants of slave labourers.

The Japanese have a large appetite for information from North Korea. Books written by visiting Japanese - usually in a semi-humorous and condescending tone - sell well in Japan. They provide a lively counterpoint to the more stolid, anti-Communist propaganda that originates in Seoul.

Lee Young Hwa, a third- generation North Korean born in Japan, returned in 1991 for a year's study of economics. He described his experiences in One Night's Secret Meeting in North Korea, published this April. Lee is a lecturer at Kansai University, but was surprised to find he could not attend university in North Korea: the professors came to visit him in his hotel. Lee learnt little and decided to leave after eight months when he was asked to write birthday greetings for Kim Il Sung.

He found a high level of discontent among the ordinary people: the 'Secret Meeting' of the title was supposedly a gathering of people voicing their opposition to the government which he attended. Food was scarce, and he wrote that after people take their shoes off on entering a house, they pick up the shoes and carry them in to prevent their being stolen. Surveillance was everywhere: his room maid once prevented him from watering the pot plant in his room: he discovered a listening device in it.

Owarai Kitachosen, or Funny North Korea, which was written by Teruo Ito, the director of a Japanese comedy television show, went on sale last September, and has sold 200,000 copies. Mr Ito, whose trademark is a goblin-like woollen cap pulled down to his ears, went on a 'humour tour' in North Korea last year and among his targets was the 'artistic genius' of Kim Jong Il who is being promoted as the country's next leader. 'Despite the nation's financial difficulties, Kim continues to build one useless building after another. He is an artist among artists.'

The great thing about Kim Jong Il is that he never has to worry about other channels, because 'he has prohibited' them. Mr Ito has a poor view of Mr Kim's artistry: 'Leave him alone, and he will continue making sand castles by himself. But if an older boy - like the US - breaks his sand castles, there will be hell to pay.'

In April this year Kenpachiro Satsuma, the actor who wears the monster suit in the Japanese Godzilla films, published a book about his experiences in North Korea in 1985: The North Korea that Godzilla saw. He and some of his colleagues from the Godzilla films were hired by Kim Jong Il to help make a monster film in North Korea called Pulgasary.

Satsuma and his friends were given VIP treatment, staying in a villa belonging to Kim Jong Il, with all the food and drink that they wanted. They were to assist with special effects in the movie in which the iron-eating monster Pulgasary attacks and kills a Korean king, liberates the peasants and falls in love. They had some difficulties in shooting the film: when they staged explosions, all the North Korean extras would dive for cover. And due to electricity shortages, the lighting on the set was inadequate, and the film was often under-exposed. But, according to Satsuma, the film went on to be a smash hit.

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
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
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?
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
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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