Japanese Press Hot on the Kim Family's Trail

A hitherto quiet residential area in Liebefeld district of Bern, Switzerland was swarming with Japanese reporters on Friday. The Japanese have been camped out here for several days since it became known that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's heir apparent Jong-un went to school here from 1998 until 2000.

The Japanese press has also been following Kim's eldest son Jong-nam (38) in Macau and Beijing. Two Japanese TV stations recently succeeded in interviewing him.

All three photos of Jong-un that have been confirmed as authentic so far were dug up by Japanese journalists. A photo of him at the age of 11 was smuggled out by Kenji Fujimoto, a former cook for Kim senior, from North Korea. The Mainichi Shimbun daily on Sunday carried a photo of Jong-un taken when he was 16 at a public secondary school in Bern. And the Yomiuri Shimbun daily on Wednesday carried a photo of him taken when he was at elementary school in Bern.

A photo of Kim Jong-un taken in 1998 released by Berner Zeitung on Wednesday /Courtesy of Berner Zeitung A photo of Kim Jong-un taken in 1998 released by Berner Zeitung on Wednesday /Courtesy of Berner Zeitung

Japanese paparazzi started stalking in 2002, when then Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited North Korea. At the time, North Korea admitted it had kidnapped some Japanese citizens in the past, which sparked anti-North Korean sentiment in Japan and piqued Japanese interest in the Kim family.

One reporter attributed the interest to Japanese people's increased sense of security and crisis in the wake of North Korea's missile and nuclear tests.

That has led to some wrong or speculative reports. One example was TV Asahi, which recently printed a photo of a South Korean Kim Jong-il look-alike as a picture of Kim Jong-un. There have also been widely denied reports that Jong-un met Chinese President Hu Jintao and rumors of an attempt on Kim Jong-nam's life by Jong-un aides.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 18, 2009 09:21 KST