11 crazy things we learn from Kim Jong-il’s sushi chef

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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If Willy Wonka and a female demon had a baby, the result would have been the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.

Nowhere in the world does the bizarre intersect more perfectly with the monstrous than in the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea. For the July issue of GQ magazine, Adam Johnson sat down with Kim Jong-il’s former Japanese sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto.

Fujimoto, which is an alias, has told some of his tales of working for and partying with Kim Jong-il from 1988 to 2001 in books and interviews before. But Johnson’s piece contains some truly bizarre anecdotes about the family ruling the world’s most hellish regime, even if all of the revelations aren’t exactly original.

Here are 11 interesting and disturbing things we learn (or learn again) from Johnson’s piece about Kim Jong-il and current North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un, to whom Fujimoto was a paid friend:

1.) No one called Kim Jong-il by his real name. His entourage referred to him as Shogun-sama, which “translates roughly as ‘honored general.'”

2.) There is a lot of mystery surrounding Kim Jong-un’s age, but Fujimoto says he was born on January 8, 1983, which would make the young dictator 30 years old.

3.) Fujimoto says Kim Jong-il befriended him because he wasn’t a typical “yes” man. In one of their earliest encounters, Fujimoto says he was making sushi for Kim Jong-il at a party when the dictator tossed an envelope full of cash at  Fujimoto’s feet. The chef refused to pick up the envelope despite the fact his interpreter informed him that he could be killed for the offense. At the next party, Kim Jong-il actually apologized to Fujimoto. In another incident, Kim Jong-il challenged Fujimoto to a jet ski race and Fujimoto won, something the sycophants around Kim Jong-il never did (at least if they wanted to live).

4.) Kim Jong-il “established an institute dedicated to his longevity.” Johnson writes:

“Its staff of 200 approved every element of Kim’s diet. Each grain of Kim’s rice was hand-inspected for chips and cracks—only perfectly shaped rice, grown in North Korea, was approved. According to Fujimoto, the rice had to be cooked over wood harvested from Mount Paektu, the sacred mountain where, North Korean propaganda claimed, Kim was born under a double rainbow and a newly born star. All were impressed when Fujimoto served the freshest meal of all: still-living fish he’d fillet alive by cutting around the organs—a skill he’d learned while working at Japan’s Tsukiji fish market.”

5.) Kim Jong-il and his chef engaged in homoerotic behavior. Fujimoto narrates:

“Many people envied me because I was a favorite of Kim Jong-il. At the parties, I poured sake for Shogun-sama, but Shogun-sama also poured sake for me, which was very rare. Every time Shogun-sama said to me, Do you like me? I answered, Of course, I like you so much. I was thinking about making a joke—I don’t like you, I despise you. I wanted to say that as a joke, but I had no courage. Shogun-sama said, If you like me, why don’t you kiss me on the cheek? I don’t remember how many times I kissed him. A hundred times? A hundred kisses. We would go to the sauna together, naked. Shogun-sama said, Oh, you have a good body, a masculine body. I said, I’m good at sports. It’s not too much to say I was a good playmate for Kim Jong-il. And every time he asked me to kiss his face, he always said to me, If you betray me, you will… Then he would go silent and make a gesture of a knife going into my stomach.”

6.) When Fujimoto disappointed Kim Jong-il, he was subjected to bizarre, incomprehensible punishments that seem like they were just as much a punishment for Kim Jong-il as for Fujimoto. Johnson writes:

“He remained on Kim’s good side, with the occasional lapse. He once failed to clean his room at a guesthouse, and Kim decided to make an example of him by taking away his kitchen. For six months, Fujimoto was forced to prepare sushi in a gymnasium.”

Did Kim Jong-il really want to eat sushi prepared in a gym?

7.) Kim Jong-il wanted his security modeled after Clint Eastwood’s character in “In the Line of Fire.” Johnson writes:

In the movie, Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, a Secret Service agent haunted by what he perceives to be his failure to save President Kennedy from assassination. But Clint Eastwood’s not going to let the current president die! There’s a scene in which Eastwood’s Secret Service team is running alongside the president’s motorcade. Eight agents in suits move with a pair of black limos, each of them with a hand on a chassis to protect the president from an evil assassin, played by John Malkovich. Here Shogun-sama suddenly stood. “This is the best scene in the movie!” he announced. He turned to his secretary and pointed at him. “This is how you protect me,” he said. Then he shouted at his security team, “You have to protect me as the Secret Police in the movie do!”

8.) Kim Jong-il had his father’s agricultural minister posthumously executed. Johnson explains:

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.

As the famine unfolded, according to Bradley K. Martin, a preeminent North Korea expert, Kim Jong-il had his new agricultural minister executed by firing squad.

As the famine became devastating, Kim Jong-il had the former agricultural minister’s body exhumed from the Patriots’ Cemetery and subjected to a posthumous execution by firing squad.

9.) Fujimoto was flown around the world picking up ingredients to make meals for Kim Jong-il. He even was flown to Beijing to pick up McDonald’s because there’s nothing better than cold McDonald’s — that is, except everything. Johnson writes:

It was part of Fujimoto’s job to fly North Korean jets around the world to procure dinner-party ingredients—to Iran for caviar, Tokyo for fish, or Denmark for beer. It was Fujimoto who flew to France to supply the Dear Leader’s yearly $700,000 cognac habit. And when the Dear Leader craved McDonald’s, it was Fujimoto who was dispatched to Beijing for an order of Big Macs to go.

10.) Fujimoto laid the groundwork for Dennis Rodman’s recent visit to North Korea by introducing Kim Jong-un, to whom he also served as the boy’s playmate, to the Chicago Bulls:

A week later, Shogun-sama called Fujimoto and informed him that the nannies had been fired: Fujimoto would be the boys’ new playmate, a position he would hold until Kim Jong-un was 18. Fujimoto introduced them to video games, remote-control cars, and most important, basketball. Fujimoto’s sister in Japan sent him VHS tapes of Bulls playoff games, so Kim Jong-un’s first taste of Western hoops came from watching Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman—men who became his heroes.

11.) Kim Jong-il would make his sex slaves box each other. Johnson writes:

Kim Jong-il had developed his kippumjo, or “Joy Division” brigade, in which teams of beautiful North Korean girls, most forcibly recruited under the age of 16, were maintained to provide entertainment, massages, and sexual gratification. A constant presence at guesthouses, kippumjo girls were overseen by Kim Jong-il’s personal bodyguards, many of whom were orphans, according to Lee Young-kuk, a former guard who escaped after being thrown in Yodok, or Camp 15.

“Such beautiful girls, so many girls,” Fujimoto recalled. “They belonged to Kim Jong-il.”

Depending on his mood, the Dear Leader might order them to sing sentimental songs, disco dance, strip naked, or hold spontaneous boxing matches.

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Jamie Weinstein