A man who served for decades as sushi chef to North Korea’s ruling Kim family has been detained in Pyongyang, according to a Japanese media report.
Kenji Fujimoto owns the Japanese restaurant Takahashi in Pyongyang, a common stop on regime-authorized tours of the city for foreigners.
According to NK News, Fujimoto has not left North Korea since moving to Pyongyang to set up the restaurant in early 2017.
And the Japanese newspaper Daily Shincho said it received “information” that he had been detained by the authorities on Wednesday. No further details were provided on the reason for the detention, and it has not been confirmed by Japanese officials.
Fujimoto was the personal chef of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 1989 to 2001, when he fled the country after a falling out with the regime.
He gained international recognition when he wrote a book in 2003 about his experiences, including descriptions of being assigned as a middle-aged “playmate” to the younger son of Kim Jong-il – the future leader Kim Jong-un.
“He was a bit lonely when he was little,” Fujimoto later told the Washington Post. “I became a kind of playmate to him; we became like friends.”
The book angered the ruling family, but upon Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011 efforts were made to reach out to Fujimoto and mend relations.
From July 2012, when now-leader Kim Jong-un and Fujimoto were photographed meeting for the first time in more than a decade, the chef traveled back and forth to North Korea from his home in the Japanese Alps.
While a Japanese official told NK News they had “not received any information” regarding Fujimoto’s reported arrest, Kim Jong-un’s time in power has been characterized by abrupt and extensive purges, even of his most trusted advisers and close family members.
This includes the execution in 2013 of Kim’s own uncle, Jang Song-thaek. South Korean officials say Kim purged a record 340 officials during his first five years in office.