Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi
June 3, 2013 5:08 PM   Subscribe

"North Korea is a mythically strange land, an Absurdistan, where almost nothing is known about the people or, more important, their missile-launching leaders. There is, however, one man—a humble sushi chef from Japan—who infiltrated the inner sanctum, becoming the Dear Leader's cook, confidant, and court jester. What is life like serving Kim Jong-il and his heir? A strange and dangerous gig where the food and drink never stop, the girls are all virgins, and you're never really safe." (via @stevesilberman)
posted by madamjujujive (52 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

 
This article is absolutely fascinating.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:33 PM on June 3, 2013


Stockholm syndrome is one helluva drug?
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:40 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I say aw jeez a lot in the future it will be because that article has used up at least four years' supply of What. The. Fuck.
posted by localroger at 5:53 PM on June 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


Fascinating but completely alien.
posted by Glinn at 6:17 PM on June 3, 2013


I think there's too much WTF for people to comment on this story. Damn. That's crazy.
posted by azpenguin at 6:46 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Confirms all my suspicions of North Korea, basically.
posted by gen at 6:54 PM on June 3, 2013


I read a very similar article about Kim Jong-Il's pizza chef. Maybe it's the nature of the job, maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's shenanigans.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:06 PM on June 3, 2013


I would imagine that a paranoid values his personal chefs more highly than his military brass.
posted by absalom at 7:07 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


too much WTF

I think this really is a thing. I am usually not at a loss for words but with this where do you fucking start? You've got a nation of 20,000,000 people in thrall to this lunatic cult, which just gets crazier the more you hear about it, and then "Fujimoto" is a piece of work himself.

Remember that scene in Volunteers where the dictator has kidnaped the female star and the male star tracks her down to find her drugged up but otherwise ensconced in luxury in a 1950's Marilyn Monroe fantasyland? We laughed because it was ridiculous, but WTF THIS SHIT IS REAL AND EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS. If you wrote a fictional dystopia this extreme it would have to be SF and it would still be rejected as too unbelievable. I mean here's the latest batch of pleasure slaves we kidnaped from WTF?

Fujimoto himself is almost like a carefully crafted guided missile or space probe, perfectly formed to enter this bas-ackward reality warp field and emerge with his internal organs still inside his body. He has exactly the right mix of charisma, daring, and submissiveness to amuse and please the Dear Leader and thus he is allowed into the royal chamber, if not when war plans are being made at least to see where they are and who is making them.

But this very same combination of traits makes that royal chamber an irresistable drug to him, a siren calling from his relatively safe but cold pub where only the occasional journalist with the right cash even knows who he is, where there are no caviar jaunts to Iran or cognac jaunts to France or pop stars who suddenly find him irresistable marriage material.

Having escaped back to the side of the looking glass where he was born and belongs, he finds the side with the absurdist queen king who might take his head irresistably more interesting. It's as if the sequel to The Wizard of Oz featured Dorothy leading a pack of tornado chasers.

Then again, that's kind of how the female lead in Twister found her calling, wasn't it? I weep for my species. We are going to kill our damn fool selves and go down congratulating ourselves for our nobility in taking it well.
posted by localroger at 7:13 PM on June 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


The kidnapped women thing, although I'd already heard accusations along those lines, was still pretty alarming.

I mean, OK, what ever happened to those poor people? I've heard of weird semi-prostitution jobs with the Sultan of Brunei before, and obviously plenty of the same in the Gulf region, but at least there you could leave when your tour was over (probably?). NK, on the other hand? Were they simply killed when they bored Dear Leader?
posted by aramaic at 7:17 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Utterly phenomenal story, that. And not only the story but the author's manner of reporting it. That right there is craft.

Adam Johnson is the author who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Orphan Master's Son, which I now want to read.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:29 PM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


aramaic it sounded to me from the story that there might have been a moment when it was realized that the kidnaping of foreign nationals was a teensy bit over the top and could cause serious trouble, and what I suspect is somebody risked his neck to suggest to Dear Leader that it would be more effective to recruit pleasure slaves from within country, where the ravages of ordinary daily existence would compare to the ostentation of court to make them properly grateful without needing coercion and without the potential mess of foreign outrage.

The Saudi harem-keepers simply make what they want pretty obvious up-front and pay their foreign-recruited women well enough that nobody makes a stink when it's over. The thing about NK is that it's not just the women, it's effectively everybody who is a slave either to the system or to the presiding ruler in some way.
posted by localroger at 7:31 PM on June 3, 2013


North Korean Abduction Victims Worldwide (Turns out it's a lot of people for a lot of reasons).
posted by 445supermag at 7:42 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh yes in light of 445supermag's excellent link, I didn't mean to imply that NK had abandoned the idea of abduction, since they obviously think it's a way cool tool, but just that someone may have decided it was a bit over the top for the sex slave trade what with so many women being available from within NK who would not arouse international complications for that purpose.
posted by localroger at 7:57 PM on June 3, 2013


Completely flabbergasting, like most firsthand accounts that come out of DPRK.
posted by item at 7:58 PM on June 3, 2013


I'm fascinated by the DPRK. It's one of those things in life that I just can't fathom. Personality cult? A state which does so poorly by most metrics yet seems to have an iron grip on it's populace? I just don't know.

I recently read The Cleanest Race and that was certainly helpful in understanding the world view of this country. But this article also helped me understand the elite's view. Not only are they caught up in the system but to enact reform means that suddenly their life becomes a whole lot worse.

Fantastic Post.
posted by Carillon at 8:36 PM on June 3, 2013


Sort of like a Jim Jones Guyana cult, but with 23 million people.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:47 PM on June 3, 2013


This is absolutely fascinating. Now if only I could figure out how to share one-off items on NewsBlur...
posted by CrystalDave at 9:12 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a kidder: "As a wedding prank, Kim Jong-il had the unconscious Fujimoto's pubic hair shaved off."
posted by madamjujujive at 9:35 PM on June 3, 2013


So Kim Jong Il is basically Joffrey.
posted by empath at 9:43 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Found it fascinating that it was implied that Jong-un might have been a 'player' from an early age in NK power games ("the younger but more aggressive son," "his own entouage," &c) despite him being remembered by classmates as mostly a wallflower while at boarding school. Good actor, good game player?

Now long lost childhood nanny/tutor/friend who introduced him to the NBA, who was also daddy's favourite buddy, is seeking to return to NK. There must still be people from the old regime who've survived being ghosted who hates his guts.

It's almost like a real-world version of complicated over the top court intrigue fantasy novels like Game of Thrones/ASoIaF and its ilk.

after preview: doh! Jong-Un's more like Littlefinger.
posted by porpoise at 9:46 PM on June 3, 2013


Were they simply killed when they bored Dear Leader?

Given the shocking, horrifying figures one reads about human trafficking, can there be any doubt that they are killed after having provided service? Use them up, throw them out. They have no more value than any other party favour.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 PM on June 3, 2013


I hate to plug my own FPPs, but take a look at some of the films made in the DPRK. It's hard enough to know what to think of North Korea if you aren't in North Korea, but their films really tell you a lot about what you're supposed to think of North Korea if you are in North Korea.

Watch the last five minutes of a few of these films. You'll see what I mean.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:18 PM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Great article, that guy sounds like a total bastard, frankly. He abandoned everyone without a thought.
posted by smoke at 11:21 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Adam Johnson deserved that Pulitzer; Orphan Master's Son is definitely worth reading.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:28 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


porpoise, ASoIaF was inspired by the War of the Roses; is it really THAT over the top?
posted by flaterik at 11:39 PM on June 3, 2013


For more WTFery in North Korea, watch this incredible, 2004 BBC documentary "Crossing the Line" which profiles an American former soldier who defected to North Korea during the war and is still living there and who has never left since. He seems totally into it. He (and a few other defectors) were the Western villains in all those DPRK films. Bonus: narrated by Christian Slater!

Ah, I see this was also mentioned in the DPRK film thread. Still, very entertaining and fascinating. It also touches on the topic of abductions.
posted by molecicco at 1:43 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Great article, that guy sounds like a total bastard, frankly.

If news comes out that he's dead (Fujimoto), I think I'll have a smile, a can of Sapporo and some ootoro to celebrate.

Between breaking a woman's front teeth, lying to a journalist to steal his money, and blithely abandoning his family, I don't really imagine myself feeling bad for him if he goes the way of those who came before him.

I'm busy feeling bad for the GOOD people who wind up murdered or in gulags. Not two shits will be given if Fujimoto winds up there too.
posted by GoingToShopping at 2:22 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"While Kim fretted about appearing like a powerful leader, his ignorance and hubris soon led his nation into famine and economic ruin. When he had taken power, the nation's food production had been considered a minor success. Rice blossomed white in the fields in the south; and across thousands of hectares, corn stalks broke upward through the soil. In recognition, the agricultural minister had been designated a hero when he died and was buried in the Patriots' Cemetery. But Kim Jong-il wanted more. He ordered the new agricultural minister to improve crop production by cutting down trees on hillsides to make room for terrace farming. Come the next rainy season, that deforestation would cause the flash floods that would destroy the crops that would cause the famine that would slowly kill 2 million people."

That I didn't know. Gah.
posted by jaduncan at 3:29 AM on June 4, 2013


Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea has had an English language version of the main North Korean newspaper online for just over a year and a half.

The site isn't always available (power shortages in Pyongyang?) but it's worth checking out. Notice that they are in the year Juche 102. Notice the rotating banner at the top ("Let us do everything the way the great Comrade Kim Jung Il did!") Browse through the Supreme Leader's Activities, and notice how he always gives perfect field guidance, no matter where he visits!

The only thing weirder than what people say about North Korea is what North Korea says about itself.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:42 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The twist at the end. My word. Just what?
posted by jaduncan at 3:44 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just have to quote this bit from the Wikipedia article about Rodong Sinmun:
The newspaper is often used as rolling paper by North Koreans, either for tobacco or, notably, cannabis; the latter grows both naturally and in private gardens throughout the DPRK, and is not prohibited despite the state's zero-tolerance policy on other narcotics such as heroin or methamphetamine, which includes capital punishment for drugs offenders. Since folding, burning, tearing or otherwise defacing images of the Great, Dear and Supreme Leaders is considered desecration, smokers use the classified pages. This practice is said to be widespread among North Korean soldiers.
So, I dunno... maybe we can find common ground somehow.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:47 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea has had an English language version of the main North Korean newspaper online for just over a year and a half.

They also have a subreddit.
posted by empath at 3:54 AM on June 4, 2013


That I didn't know. Gah.

But Brawndo's got electrolytes!
posted by acb at 4:05 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been pitching my script for "Harold and Kumar go to North Korea". It's about two lovable stoners who get lost on their way to get late-night munchies and end up in Pyongyang. Hilarity ensues and everybody learns a little more about themselves, and about each other.

No nibbles yet from Hollywood, but I hear that North Korea has a film industry, so I might pitch it there.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:07 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


They also have a subreddit.

Sadly I'm banned.
posted by jaduncan at 5:23 AM on June 4, 2013


The article is bizarre in that it mentions none of Fujimoto's three, yes, three books on the subject, The Honorable General Who Loved Nuclear Weapons and Girls, I was Kim Jong Il's Cook, and Kim's Chef, Kim's Private Life
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:09 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The 10th Regiment of Foot, that is strange.

I don't have time to look further right now (damn you, pesky clients) but The Atlantic featured excerpts from his 2003 book, I Was Kim Jong Il's Cook.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:28 AM on June 4, 2013


It is hard to be objective about this because, if you live in the US, you've been subjected to anti-NK propaganda your entire life. Someone in Japan hasn't. If you imagine a dude leaving the US to serve the totalitarian ruler of Turkmenistan, it seems weird, but maybe not utterly alien and bizarre in the same way.
posted by miyabo at 6:49 AM on June 4, 2013


The newspaper is often used as rolling paper

Non-modern printing ink contains a lot of heavy metals. Yummy!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:58 AM on June 4, 2013


The newspaper is often used as rolling paper by North Koreans

I find this hard to believe as there are documented cases of people being sent to gulags for improperly disposing of copies of the paper that contained photos of the Great Leader, Dear Leader, or Great Marshall!

Non-modern printing ink contains a lot of heavy metals.

So does the air, soil, and water around North Korean industrial sites. Smoking could potentially act as a filter!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:38 AM on June 4, 2013


Someone in Japan hasn't.

...I dunno, geez, random Japanese citizens have apparently been abducted from Japanese territory by NK agents, to say nothing of the amphetamine smuggling, nearby missile launches, naval confrontations, and other amusements.

If anything, I would think it'd be less likely that a Japanese citizen would be objective about it. It seems like there'd be a big difference between "wow, those dudes on the other side of the planet are wacky" and "wow, those dudes could pull up in a zodiac and grab me off the beach to spend the next fifteen years as a language trainer/sex-slave".
posted by aramaic at 8:50 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find this hard to believe as there are documented cases of people being sent to gulags for improperly disposing of copies of the paper that contained photos of the Great Leader, Dear Leader, or Great Marshall!

That was covered in the quoted text, and it is mentioned that people use the classifieds section for this reason, especially soldiers.
posted by molecicco at 9:02 AM on June 4, 2013


This new book is from a more objective author. (Caveat I haven't read it yet because some bastard still has it out from my work library!)
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:04 AM on June 4, 2013


That was covered in the quoted text, and it is mentioned that people use the classifieds section for this reason, especially soldiers.

I'm still doubtful. First off, because there aren't classifieds in the copies I've seen, and why would there be in a place where open market capitalism is officially illegal? Further, the books I've read talk about people being sent up for folding it wrong and in one woman's case setting something inadvertantly, temporarily on top of a neat stack of them during an office move (though she did think that someone was trying to get her for other things and they used that as an excuse). Also, becuase of shortages of newsprint, they don't distribute the paper like they used to, instead posting a few copies in public places. Last, soldiers read the Joson Inmingun, the Army newspaper that is distributed to their barracks.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:17 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Read the Orphan Master's Son if you haven't already. It is remarkable and Johnson (the author of the article and the book) has clearly done his research. he so deserved his pulitzer.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:30 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been doing a metric crap ton of reading and research on North Korea for the last year or so (which is oh so good for my depression!), but the best thing I've read on understanding them, their history, and Juche as a philosophy has been The Cleanest Race. It certainly has its detractors and gets into some wonky in-fighting between the "experts", but it is a really good breakdown of their thought using their own words.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:47 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


One more post I swear regarding the Rodng Sinmun, it's WAY more fun to read the Korean version and let Google translate it for you!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:10 AM on June 4, 2013


Re: The Cleanest Race. It is notable that in Crossing The Line, three out of the four US defectors started families, and each one had -- or was supplied with -- another foreigner for a wife. One of them even had a second such wife.
posted by molecicco at 10:16 AM on June 4, 2013


In conversation with: a North Korean refugee in America - "North Korean defectors often say that the most arduous part of leaving is the fear of repatriation. We meet a women who was repatriated four times, before succeeding on her fifth try."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:00 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A fascinating story about despicable people. Holy cow.
posted by Cygnet at 3:51 PM on June 4, 2013


This description of the decor:
...as if Liberace's jet had crashed into Lenin's tomb
...is both brilliant and probably very accurate.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:55 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


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