Defected sushi chef: Kim Jong Eun’s secret birthday is Jan. 8, 1983

December 6, 2012

Japanese chef Kenji Fujimoto discusses his memoir about working for Kim Jong Il in North Korea. The book's cover photo is of him hugging Kim Jong Un on his recent return trip. (YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

A Japanese sushi chef who goes by the pseudonym of Kenji Fujimoto, and who prepared meals for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il from the late 1980s through his 2001 flight from Pyongyang, has revealed what he says is new leader Kim Jong Eun's actual birthday

"Next year, Kim Jong Eun will be a perfect 30,” Fujimoto told the Financial Times, indicating that the young leader's birthday is Jan. 8, 1983. He shares the birthday with Elvis Presley, though the two are separated by many years. The fact that the younger Kim's birthday is a secret is one of the many quirks of the world's most secretive government.

Fujimoto published a tell-all memoir in Japanese in 2003, some juicy excerpts of which The Atlantic translated into English and can be found here

Though Fujimoto has said that he feared the North Korean government might try to kill him in retaliation for the book, Kim Jong Eun's government actually made a show of forgiving him and inviting him back for a two-week trip earlier this year:

Mr. Kim apparently had forgiven the transgressions of his family’s former chef, who goes by the alias Kenji Fujimoto, and wanted to see him again. Mr. Fujimoto, with some trepidation, agreed, and in a two-week visit that recently ended, he got a rare up-close glimpse of the enigmatic new leader. ...

“The comrade general smiled and told me, ‘Your betrayal is now forgotten,’ ” Mr. Fujimoto said in an interview. Mr. Fujimoto still declined to give his real name or his age, this time for fear that Japanese right-wing extremists might attack him for appearing friendly with a nation that abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s.

There is no way to gauge whether Mr. Fujimoto’s redemption is anything more than a propaganda exercise aimed at softening the North’s image. 

Is Fujimoto right about Kim Jong Eun's age and birthday? There's probably no way to know for sure, although ultimately the question of whether Fujimoto is right about the younger Kim softening his regime's harsh policies is probably more important.
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Max Fisher · December 6, 2012