Late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's former sushi chef visited the North for the first time in 11 years spent mostly telling tales out of school, but there were apparently no hard feelings as he met new leader Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju, according to Japan's Kyodo News.
The chef, who goes by the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, was Kim's personal chef from 1989 until 2001 and has published several books about this time in the secretive country. He told reporters in Beijing on his way back from the North that he met Kim Jong-un at a welcome party for him and that Ri was also present.
Fujimoto's 2003 memoir offered a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the North's ruling household. The young North Korean leader called Fujimoto by his real name, said "Long time no see' and told him he was always welcome in the North, according to the chef.
The two discussed no hairy issues like the North's bizarre abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s or Pyongyang-Tokyo relations in general, Fujimoto said.
Kim's younger sister Yeo-jong also came to the party, but his older brother Jong-chol was not there. Fujimoto treated the young North Korean leader to blue-fin tuna that he brought with him. He went to North Korea on July 21 and also met his family in Pyongyang during the visit.
Why Kim Jong-un invited Fujimoto back remains something of a puzzle. The chef virtually fled the North back in 2001 after being accused of spying, leaving his North Korean wife and children in Pyongyang.
"Kim Jong-un has recently been showing signs of opening up his country and may be seeking to send some kind of message to Tokyo with this treatment of Fujimoto," an informed source said.
Japan's TBS TV reportedly funded the trip and sent a camera crew to film it.
Japanese authorities will thoroughly debrief Fujimoto about his conversations with Kim. The chef's gossipy books about the Kim family are not overly critical of the regime, though he was among the first to point out Jong-un as the likeliest successor to the throne. In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo in 2010, Fujimoto said the former leader's middle son Jong-chol, who might seem a more natural choice, "is timid and feminine, but [Jong-un] is masculine."
Fujimoto added the tubby young leader seem to have been fed well so he would become more heavy-set and "look more like a leader."