FINDING FUJIMOTO: Join the search for the missing sushi master in North Korea

PART 2: The Man, the Chef, and the Mystery:

Who is Fujimoto Kenji?


NEXT: PART 3: How Fujimoto and I first met    


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March 3rd, 2017 | the Paektu Blog | Michael Spavor 


Fujimoto Kenji (藤本 健二) is the renowned chef and writer who was the former private sushi chef of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il between 1988 to 2001. During that 12-year period, he apparently became close friends not only with the former leader but also his family and his son, who is now the current leader North Korea, Marshall Kim Jong-Un.


Kenji Fujimoto. @Adrian Storey

Kenji Fujimoto (2013) @Adrian Storey


Kim Jong-il (bottom row, far left) with party leaders and Fujimoto (top row, far right) in December 1991. Photo by Fujimoto; AFP

Kim Jong-il (bottom row, far left) with party leaders and Fujimoto (top row, far right) in December 1991. Photo by Fujimoto; AFP


After moving back to Japan in 2001, Fujimoto was suddenly invited back to North Korea in June of 2012, later to realize that the invitation was from the leader himself. He went back to Pyongyang for a short visit and was reunited with his old friend, and also had the opportunity to meet the first lady Ms. Ri Sol-Ju and see the capital city again, which had changed and developed in many ways since he had first lived there. As you can see in the photos it was an emotional reunion for him.


Fujimoto Kenji and Marshall Kim Jung-Un and First Lady Ri Sol-Ju (Photos courtesy of Mr. Fujimoto, 2012)


Fujimoto returned to Pyongyang four years later in April 2016 for another visit, and then apparently again later that year in June. That’s about the time when I found out that he was actually going forward with an interesting and odd idea he had. He mentioned to me during previous meetings that he had dreamed about moving back to North Korea and had hopes of opening up a restaurant in Pyongyang that served authentic, high-quality Japanese cuisine, in particular, ramen and sushi.


Kenji Fujimoto, is surrounded by reporters in Beijing on Tuesday after returning from a trip to Pyongyang June 2016 | KYODO

Kenji Fujimoto is surrounded by reporters in Beijing on Tuesday after returning from a trip to Pyongyang June 2016 | KYODO


From what I had heard, it was extremely rare for anyone to have met Fujimoto while he was living in Japan, as he was also famous for keeping to himself. Before I had met him, I heard somewhere that one would have to pay up to ten or twenty thousand dollars for a formal interview or less if you wanted just wanted to meet him.

I read that Mr. Fujimoto was the only person in Japan, or for that matter in the world, to have not only met the ruling family of North Korea, but he also lived with the family and had become quite close with them. He even spent much leisure time with the family playing sports and of course his main duty as their private sushi chef during the period when he lived in North Korea from 1988 to 2001.

If you don’t believe it, you can read about his twelve years of adventures living and working in North Korea, which has been well documented in his many books, but you’ll also need to be able to read Japanese (or Korean, Finnish and a few other languages) because unfortunately the books haven’t been translated into English … yet.

A few years back, I spent a good solid day making my way through the Korean version of the Kim Jong-il’s Chef book, I was so captivated I read the whole book in one sitting, which is something to be said, as it is the only Korean book I had ever read cover-to-cover.  Anyway, for those interested, I’ve included a list of his books in a reference section below.

Hopefully, one day someone will translate his books into English, because, they are quite interesting and a must read for understanding one man’s very unique experiences living in North Korea. If there is any serious interest in translating his books from Japanese to English, I can suggest the idea to Mr. Fujimoto personally.


Reference: Books Published by Fujimoto Kenji (in Japanese)

Kim Jong-il’s Chef (金正日の料理人 間近で見た権力者の素顔) (2003) (Link) (Link)
Fusosha Publishing Inc (扶桑社)

The Secret Life of Kim Jong-il (金正日の私生活 知られざる招待所の全貌) (2004) (Link)
Fusosha Publishing Inc (扶桑社)

The Honorable General Who Loved Nuclear Weapons and Girls (核と女を愛した将軍様―金正日の料理人「最後の極秘メモ」) (2006) (Link)
Shogakukan Inc (小学館)

The North’s Successor, Kim Jong-un (北の後継者キム・ジョンウン) (2010) (Link)
Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc (中央公論新社)

Broken Promises (引き裂かれた約束 全告白・大将同志への伝言) (2012) (Link)
Kodansha Ltd (講談社)


I haven’t seen Mr. Fujimoto since April of last year, but now that I’ve found him I’m going to visit his new sushi restaurant “Takahashi”, this April for the first time. The trip is planned from April 14th to 17th 2017 and it is during the 105th Birthday celebrations of the country’s founder. It’s going to be an amazing trip to see North Korea!  See below for more information on how to join.

Michael Spavor | Paektu Cultural Exchange



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日本語の情報 .pdf   Download PDF


PART 1: Introduction 

(with video)

PART 2: The Man, the Chef, and the Mystery: Who is Fujimoto Kenji?

PART 3: How Fujimoto and I first met    

PART 4: The search begins for Mr. Fujimoto

PART 5: Welcome to Takahashi Pyongyang’s Newest Sushi Restaurant!  

(photos & video of Restaurant)   

PART 6: The Takahashi Sushi Bar & Ramen Restaurant Review

(posting pictures and video’s from our April 14-17th trip


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