Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi | GQ
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.
“The chef’s name, an alias, is Kenji Fujimoto, and for eleven years he was Kim Jong-il’s personal chef, court jester, and sidekick. He had seen the palaces, ridden the white stallions, smoked the Cuban cigars, and watched as, one by one, the people around him disappeared. 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.
When he finally escaped, Fujimoto became, according to a high-level cable released by WikiLeaks, the Japanese intelligence community’s single greatest asset on the Kim family, rulers of a nation about which stubbornly little is known. We don’t know how many people live there. (Best guess: around 23 million.) It’s uncertain how many people starved to death during the famine of the late ’90s. (Maybe 2 million.) Also mysterious is the number of citizens currently toiling their way toward death in labor camps, places people are sent without trial or sentence or appeal. (Perhaps 200,000.) We didn’t even know the age of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, until Kenji Fujimoto revealed his birth date. (January 8, 1983.)
What we know of North Korea comes from satellite photos and the stories of defectors, which, like Fujimoto’s, are almost impossible to confirm. Though North Korea is a nuclear power, it has yet to build its first stoplight. The phone book hasn’t been invented. It is a nation where old Soviet factories limp along to produce brand-new refrigerators from 1963. When people do escape, they tend to flee from the countryside, where life is more dangerous. Because people rarely defect from the capital, their stories don’t make it out, which leaves a great mystery in the center of an already obscure nation. Which is why Fujimoto’s is the rarest of stories.”