My exclusive interview with Fujimoto: Part 2Chef says Kim Jong Un showed leadership potential early


In an extensive interview with me, Fujimoto revealed the true character of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Fujimoto said Kim junior has exercised strong leadership since childhood while performing naughty behaviors.

He said Kim Jong Un was drinking vodka and smoking a lot from his teens.

Fujimoto also blasted the Japanese government for missed diplomatic opportunities.

Here is the full uncut version of my interview with him.


Chef says Kim Jong Un showed leadership potential early
In exclusive interview, Kenji Fujimoto says North Korean leader was boisterous growing up


TOKYO – For two years the world has been struggling to understand the true character of North Koreafs young leader Kim Jong Un.

While the repercussions from the brutal execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek are still being felt at home and abroad, a jovial Kim was seen at a his birthday celebrations last week, greeted by Dennis Rodman.

In an extensive interview with NK News, Kenji Fujimoto, a personal chef that served Kim Jong Il for 13 years, said even in basketball games the teenage Kim knew how to use both carrots and sticks | reprimanding and extolling fellow players as the situation warranted.

As a diehard basketball fan, Kim Jong Un always wore the jerseys bearing the numbers of Rodman or Michael Jordan, the chef said.

Fujimoto said there were limits to how much of the Kim family life he was able to witness, particularly whether or how Kim Jong Ilfs children were disciplined. Nor did he see much of how North Koreafs founder Kim Il Sung, in his late 70s by the time Fujimoto arrived, interacted with his grandchildren prior to his death in 1994.

But Fujimoto said Kim Jong Un was aware of the starvation and social hardships on the streets in his teens and cared about the huge gap between his own country and other developed countries.


Fujimoto wrote a book about his last meeting with Kim Jong Un, which took place in summer 2012

Following are excerpts of my interview with Fujimoto.

NK News: Foreign media is very curious about Kim Jong Unfs character. So you knew him during his formative years, from age 7 to 18. Were there any characteristics that stick out during that period of his life?

Fujimoto: The thing that sticks out is his 7th birthday. Maybe a little bit after his birthday. None of the elites knew about the existence of Shogun Kim Jong Ilfs children. I was at the Sinchon guesthouse during lunch. After all the elites were finished with their meals they were all conversing. I heard a car door shut outside. I heard that Shogun Kim Jong Il was coming later in the day. Shogun Kim Jong Il found me and told me that they would introduce their sons today. So went out to the hall. Right by the corner of the billiard table. The two were standing there in military clothes. And behind them stood Mrs. Ko Yong Hui. As soon as the two saw the Shogun, they immediately saluted. It was so strange. Little children saluting in military garb. They were so small then. Of course they quickly passed my height butc They were 7 and 9.

NK News: Is this when you were glared at?

Fujimoto: During the handshaking ceremony, I was the lowest person there. So I was at the very back of the line. My heart was pounding when I got closer in the line. Around 10 people ahead of me. After it got to about five people, I felt more relaxed. I was going to shake their hand! Meeting them for the first time! They were wearing military clothes. Would I be shot? (laughter) Daejang(= General) Jong Chol was first, as he is the eldest. I shook his hand. I gripped his hand a little and he gripped back. And then I got to Daejang Jong Un. He was glaring at me. Glaring up at me. He seemed to think of me like gSo you are the Imperial Japanese trash.h So the first impression on meeting with him was so bad.

NK News: You were over 40 at that point, right?

Fujimoto: Yes. So, the Shogun tells Mr. Kim Jong Un, gthis is Fujimoto-san.h He reluctantly offered his hand. Ifll never forget his eyes. I gave his hand a little grip like with his older brother Jong Chol. He limply gave me his hand. Thatfs it. I thanked him. Of course, both of the princes had had my sushi sans wasabi. Ifve given the sushi to their driver to have it delivered many times. So they knew about a Japanese chef named Fujimoto that makes the sushi. They have heard the name.

When he opened his heart to me was after that. Was maybe a week or ten days later. Shogun Kim Jong Ilfs driver came to get me. I rode with him to the Shogunfs palace at the Sinchon guesthouse. I wasnft his playmate yet, that was later. So I went in the car to the yard. There were 10 or so elites. The Shogun, Mrs. Ko Yong Hui, movie technicians, drivers, butlers. They were trying to put up a kite. They asked me to help them raise the kite. They said theyfd been trying but it wonft fly. So I took a look and it was the kind with no streamers. Up in Yamagata-prefecture there are kites like those. With contests. But those kites are extremely difficult to fly.

So I told them to get me paper, glue, tape and scissors. I put it together in 5 minutes. The one holding the kite was Daejang Kim Jong Un, who had glared at me. I had a translator, but I told him when I say to let it go. I checked the wind and got it ready and told him to let go. It went straight up. High over the Sinchon guesthouse. Everyone bent their necks up.

That was when he opened his heart to me. He was so happy about it. Mrs. Ko Yong Hui also said, gIsnft that nice, Jong Un? If it wasn't for Fujimoto-san the kite wouldnft have flown.h He said, gYeah!h I think thatfs when he opened his heart to me. A few days after that, the Shogun asked me if I would be the childrenfs playmate. I was going to jokingly say no. But there was no way I could say that. No but seriously, I said yes. And I told him Ifd teach them lots of Japanese games.

NK News: You taught them lots of different things. Like traditional Japanese spinning tops and stilts. What else did you teach them?

Fujimoto: Wooden tops with the pull string. Lead tops. I had them make stilts also. We played kick the can.

NK News: In the book you describe Jong Un as naughty. Much more rambunctious than his older brother.

Fujimoto: Yes. Thatfs true.

NK News: So is it true that he likes basketball?

Fujimoto: Yes. Shogun Kim Jong Il said hefs 164. But his height isnft much higher than mine. Because hefs rather short, he wanted his children to be taller. There was a basketball court at the Wonsan guesthouse. Just for their children. If they played a little ball, they might be taller, he thought. It was a childrenfs hoop. They started playing actual matches in 1996. They had a match the day before I went to Japan to buy ingredients.

At the Changsong guesthouse, they called up a team, pretty good team from Wonsan. Changsong is located near the border with China. They played a team representing Changsong. The military team. They also had a team made up of the people who worked in the guest residents such as the cleaning people. And finally, the Princesf team. Daejang Kim Jong Un was going to Switzerland by this point. His bodyguards were on his team too. It was f96 so he was 13 or so. Hefs born 1983.


NK News: Regarding his birthday, according to your book his birthday is 1983 January 8th. However, North Korea official record says the birth year was 1982. On the other hand, South Korean Intelligent agency concluded Kim's birth year was 1984. Are you sure 1983 is really right?

Fujimoto: Definitely. No doubt. For birthdays we always had to write cards. For Daejang Jong Cholfs birthday, it is September 25th. Princess Yo Jongfs birthday is September 26th. They were one day apart. So wefd write them a card around the same time. And Daejang Jong Unfs birthday was January 8th. I had to write cards, of course I know his birthday.

NK News: The different age counting system between Japan and Korea doesn't matter?

Fujimoto: No.

NK News: So, to change topics to Jong Unfs herosc Does Rodmanfs visit make sense?

Fujimoto: When I went back to Japan in 1992 I was arrested by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. I spent two years in Okinawa under their surveillance. I got back 1998 June. I went back for my daughterfs birthdate June 10. I told the Shogun when I left for Japan to buy ingredients that I would get a rule book for basketball from Japan. I was a referee for basketball. I came back with a rulebook, but at lunch they laughed at me. I told them I had brought back a rulebook. By that point though, they had national referees for their games! After eating there was a match with the womenfs team. The stadium was just like NBAfs gorgeous stadiums. Everything such as the court and the viewing galleries is just like NBAfs. I was so surprised at it.

NK News: Where is that located?

Fujimoto: Thatfs Guesthouse No. 22 in Pyongyang.

NK News: Was he a fan of Rodman at that point?

Fujimoto: He was always wearing the number 10 jersey.

NK News: How about Michael Jordan?

Fujimoto: Of course. He liked both of them so much.

NK News: Who else was Jong Unfs heros? Other than Rodman? For Japanese children itfd be Ultraman or Kamen Rider.

Fujimoto: Well I bought them two Kamen Rider figures from Japan. The one that was more pleased was Daejang Jong Chol. I also bought them a model gun of a colt. I gave it to them on a yacht. I was piloting the yacht. I canft forget that day. Madam Ko Yong asked Daejang Jong Chol if he was pleased with the colt. Hefd come out wearing the colt on his hip during meals. I taught him to spin the gun on his finger. He was about 10 or so.

NK News: There was a big trouble with waves on the yacht, right?

Fujimoto: Yes. It was incredible. Princess Yo Jong was under the cabin and screaming. The yacht would tip to the side and the waves would be up to the windows of the cabin. The weather was so bad, so I told Shogun Kim Jong Il wefd better head back. And the shogun said, gDo so.h

NK News: You didnft get sea sick?

Fujimoto: We werenft out there long. We headed back and made it to the piers. The whole family was on board the yacht. When we were getting off, Madam Ko Yong was saying gIfm done. No more!h During lunch, Shogun Kim Jong Il had asked me how the weather was. I had told them the weather was not too bad. Yachts don't capsize so easily. There is that a thing on the bottom that keeps it up right. So he had said alright, gLetfs go out after eating.h

NK News: Kim Jong Il was on board too? How was he?

Fujimoto: Yes. He didn't show it but he must have been nervous too.


NK News: How was discipline inside the family?

Fujimoto: I always get asked this. But, we were never able to look into the private lives of the family. Just sometimes I saw Madam Ko Yong Hui teaching her children Chinese characters. One day, Prince Jong Un came up to ask me about a character. I told him gyes, which one do you need?h He asked me how to write eWave.f I think they were practicing dictations with characters about ocean words such as Blue, Sea, Sky. They were using Japanese brand practice books called Kokuyo. Chongryon in Japan probably sent them over! Ifd see and hear her saying to her son, gNo, no, you have to think on your own!h

NK News: The grandfather Kim Il Sung. Did he have much interactions with his grandchildren?

Fujimoto: I suppose.

NK News: You werenft there yet when he was alive?

Fujimoto: I was there. But I didnft really see anything really.

NK News: Did Jong Un see the starvation and hardships on his way to the guest residents and such? Did he see the gap between his life and the poor peoplesf lives?

Fujimoto: During the five hour conversation on the train we talked about this. Hefs seen Europe and Japan. Hefd see supermarkets and department stores. He has been to Tokyo Disney Land as well. So hefs seen these things when he was very young. While he was very young with his hands being held by parents, of course these things didnft sink in yet. But as he got older he saw the world with his own eyes. Hefd see Japanese supermarkets with mountains of products. Everywhere you go. Overabundance of things. Then he returns home and sees how there is nothing. Back then. He said this, gFujimoto, we have to imitate Chinese reforms.h I thought, this man will head towards reform. He knows that there must be change.

NK News: How many times did he go to Tokyo Disney Land?

Fujimoto: I think twice. That's why he is building resorts. He wants to give North Korean children enjoyment and dream.

NK News: Did his Swiss education expand his view?

Fujimoto: Yes. He was quite different before and after.

NK News: Did he talk about Switzerland? Did he talk about being picked on or anything?

Fujimoto: He didn't talk about that. But his brother was good at ski. While Prince Jong Un was a good snowboarder. Hefd tell me how fun it is. Asked me if I snowboarded too. Ifm a skier though. Hefs a modern kid, indeed.

NK News. What are differences you perceive between the Kim Jong Un age 7~18 and now?

Fujimoto: So I saw him for the first time in a long time two years ago. From the beginning I was aware that he was going to be the heir. I felt like he truly cares about the country.

NK News: Is Kim Jong Un familiar with South Korean culture?

Fujimoto: Of course! They have TVs and movies and everything. From the South or wherever.

NK News: South Korea is worried about regime change.

Fujimoto: South Korea is the most in danger of being attacked by the North. Bombardments like Yeonpyeong Island. I was drinking in a pub with the bombardment of Yeongpyeong happened. I closed out my bill and went home to write a letter. I heard the USS George Washington was heading to the area. I wrote, gShogun-sama, itfs been decided that the George Washington is heading to the Yeongpyeong area. Usually, during Team Spirit exercises the US fired at empty zones from the US ships. Ten or so shots. But this time, you cannot fire a single shot. The Americans are waiting for that. It would be all out war. Think back. Did the North fire a single shot [when the Washington approached]? Nope.

NK News: Werenft you afraid of sending a letter to the Shogun?

Fujimoto: My letters reached there. When I went back to North Korea two years ago. The press officer thanked me. That the elites all read my letter.

NK News: This was after you fled to Japan, right?

Fujimoto: Yes, I fled in 2001. How many years had it been since I ran [that they got my letter]!

NK News: I thought theyfd be still angry that you ran.

Fujimoto: Ifve sent five letters since 2001.

NK News: So, thatfs why they accepted you back to Pyongyang two years ago and allowed you to read a letter in front of them. Because you offered different insight into a group of yes-men. You went back in the summer of 2012. Was the Japanese government counting on you at all to push relations forward?

Fujimoto: When it was decided that Ifll go, they didn't contact me yet. I was so frustrated about this. After I came back, they realized I was the real deal. That Fujimoto can meet the North Korean leader. After that Jin Matsubara, then Japanese minister in charge of abduction issues, contacted me. Why didnft they contact me before? Why didnft they give me a letter to deliver? Actually, there was movement to use me as an intermediary, but the foreign ministry blocked it. So stupid. They were afraid of pursuing dual diplomacy.

If they had given me official documents, Mr. Kim Jong Un would have definitely gotten a hold of the letter. He would feel that action was needed. Hefd be drawn in. I promised him that I would return to Pyongyang on September 1. That I would return to Japan on August 4. He knows everything about my life in Japan. I also talked about my contract with TBS. The world was watching me when I went to Pyongyang. Think about how the world will react when they see me return to Japan without harm.

NK News: So he knew about all your activities. And you told him about everything. And he was expecting you to come back on the first of September.

Fujimoto: I did not have to hide anything towards him. So then Minister Matsubara contacted me. At first, it was getting near September 1st. He asked me to push the return back one week. I said no. I promised Mr. Kim Jong Un that I would return on the 1st. It was my first promise that I made in 2012. He pressed me and bowed deeply. He talked about Prime Minister Noda who canft write a letter to Pyongyang since the Diet is in session and all. He bowed so deeply. I canft say no to a Japanese Minister pleading with me. I told him fine. But I said to you, gYoufre going to make me a liar again.h

Anyway, I waited for a week. Then I saw him again. When I entered the room, he was empty handed. No briefcase or envelope. A letter like that would not fit in a pocket. He had nothing. I was shocked. I turned pale. The minister turned out his aides. He apologized profusely that Prime Minister Noda was not able to write a letter. I was so furious. You made me a liar and you come empty handed! Give me back my time, I told him.

NK News: So whose fault was it? Prime Minister Nodafs?

Fujimoto: It's the Foreign Ministryfs fault. What kind of Prime Minister bows to the Foreign Ministry? Is the government run by the Foreign Ministry?

NK News: Why canft Japanese politicians take risks? Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used to take a risk.

Fujimoto: They canft take risks. When Prime Minister Koizumi went on a Japanese plane, he took loads of cash. You have to. If we go through China, they would stop us and ask us about the money. It had to be a direct flight.

NK News: Here is another question from South Korean media. You went to Pyongyang in 2012. You see normal people in Pyongyang. How did they view Kim Jong Un?

Fujimoto: They praised him over and over. They all were glad that he is the heir. But now, they are trembling in fear. Since he killed his uncle in such a gruesome way. Of course they didn't announce about the 90 rounds. They only said it was an execution. .

NK News: Did people really believe he was the best? Back then? He appeared suddenly. Is it a matter of blood?

Fujimoto: Of course some would oppose it. Itfs like a company you know, where one family monopolizes the presidentfs office. Therefd be people complaining to bring new talent from elsewhere. So, of course there are the opponents of him.

NK News: So Kim Jong Un was drinking vodka and smoking a lot from his teens?

Fujimoto: Yes, he was.

NK News: You have written in your books that he has a lot of leadership skills.

Fujimoto: This is true. Everyone was watching his basketball games from above. Shogun Kim Jong Il, his mother, all the elites. Until the basketball game is over and everyone leaves the court, they are watching from above. Watching how Prince Jong Un and Prince Jong Chol act. Prince Jong Chol would always gather his team under the net. Hefd say, gGood work everyone. Now dismiss.h However, Prince Jong Un. Hefd get very angry when hefs angry. gWhat was that pass earlier? Such a pass would never get a score!h Ifd be waiting for him off the side of the court. After getting mad at his team hefd come over. Smile and ask by putting out his tongue at me, gI wonder if hefll recover from that one!h I told him, when someone makes a mistake you have to get angry! They wonft improve, I told him.

NK News: I wonder who taught him such things.

Fujimoto: Ifm sure it is from his father. Prince Jong Un praised them very highly whenever he praised them. gWhat good passing that was earlier!h hefd say. Hefd clap too.

NK News: Thatfs way more impressive than student body president, isnft it? (laughs) So do you have any plans to return to North Korea? You have a dream to open a ramen restaurant in Pyongyang. What are your next moves? Are you going to approach them or are you waiting for their approach?

Fujimoto: Well, itfd be hard to approach them now. With all this. Ifll wait till it gets quieter.

NK News: So how do your letters actually get there?

Fujimoto: Secret. No comments.

NK News: So does it go through?

Fujimoto: Huh? Of course it does! All my letters get there.

NK News: Ifve read somewhere that Kim Jong Il had personally promoted basketball on a national level, having courts put in factory grounds and such.

Fujimoto: Well, All the guesthouses except Sinchon had basketball courts. The Sinchon guesthouse didn't have one, but the rest all did. And for regular citizens theyfd play basketball at different gymnasiums and all that. They had comics and TV dramas on basketballs too. They had one were factory workers got together and train to play basketball. The country truly loved basketball.

NK News: Was he good? Kim Jong Un?

Fujimoto: Around 1996 he was a really amateur player. I mean, to the extent I was the referee! One time Prince Jong Un told me before a match I was reffing. If the Princesf team fouls you have to call it. Keep it fair. That day the Princesf team was winning by one point. The clock had two minutes left. If they kept it up, the Princesf team would have won. But their team fouled the opponents and gave them two free throw chances. I thought, gPLEASE, donft make both the baskets.h

They made both, though. The last two minutes went by quickly and the princes ended up losing by one point. At the award ceremony, the Shogun and madam would give all the participants a commemorative item. After they left the court, Prince Jong Chol was so angry with me. gWe lost because you blew the whistle!h he said. On the other hand, Prince Jong Un came over and said, gwell, of course youfd lose if you fouled at a point in the game like that!h Theyfre way of thinking was so different. Prince Jong Un thought that they lost because they fouled. Prince Jong Chol though they lost because I blew a whistle on their foul. But I was glad. I thought, gPrince Jong Chol actually does know how to get mad!h He is a boy!

NK News: What kind of person is Ri Sol Ju?

Fujimoto: She is very nice. She is beautiful.


Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based journalist. His work has appeared in the Asahi Shimbun, Bloomberg, Asia Times, Janefs Defence Weekly and The Diplomat, among other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @TakahashiKosuke
posted by Kosuke at 23:52| Comment(0) | NK News