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Kim Jong Il's sushi chef returns after fleeing for life

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
  • Fujimoto has written a number of books about the Kim family since leaving N. Korea
  • During visit, Fujimoto meets Kim Jong Un and his wife
  • Fujimoto says Kim gave him a free pass to visit N. Korea whenever he wants

(CNN) -- Not many people get a personal invitation to visit North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un.

Kenji Fujimoto was the personal sushi chef of Kim's father, the late Kim Jong Il, before fleeing to his native Japan in 2001, fearing his life was in danger.

More than a decade later, he returned to North Korea and described a warm reunion with the young Kim. "I jumped up to hug him, shouting 'Comrade General' and instantly burst into tears ... He hugged me back, the first hug in 11 years. I said, 'Fujimoto the betrayer is back now,' and I apologized for all I did and all I disclosed about him. He said, 'OK, don't worry anymore.'"

Fujimoto has written a number of books about the Kim family since he left North Korea.

The former chef says he often played with the young Kim before he escaped. During his recent two-week visit, he says Kim thanked him for playing with him and talked about their going horse-riding, jet-skiing; playing tennis, basketball; and rollerblading together. Fujimoto said of the young leader, "I was surprised how gentle a person he is."

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It is not clear why the younger Kim decided to invite Fujimoto back to North Korea, but it is clear that Fujimoto is unwilling to say anything negative about him or the country. Speaking of Pyongyang, he said, "I went window shopping from the third day. There are plenty of goods in shops. That's already a big difference. There was nothing there 10 years ago ... I guess it changed drastically since the Kim Jong Un era started."

More: North Korea rebuffs aid from South

Pyongyang has improved over the past decade, but it is a city for the elite and chosen. In the countryside that few visitors are allowed to see, the situation is very different. Aid groups say food is scarce and malnutrition high.

It may not surprise many that Fujimoto, with his glowing praise, sounds at times like a spokesman for the regime. His wife and children are still living in Pyongyang. Fujimoto claims they want to stay, but there is no way to know for sure. Spending every day with his family, he then stayed the night in a room in the Secretary's department, claiming he needed to for safety, as there are many who do not forgive him, as he says Kim has done.

I said clearly that if I go back to Japan safely, the reputation of Supreme Commander 'Comrade General' would soar enormously
Kenji Fujimoto , former chef to Kim Jong Il

Fujimoto also met Kim's wife whom the world did not even know about a couple of weeks ago. Of Ri Sol-ju he said, "She is just so charming. I cannot describe her voice, it's so soft... She said to me, 'Welcome to the republic. Our comrade the Supreme Commander missed you the most. He was always talking about you. Thank you for coming.'

Kim organized a party in Fujimoto's honor, according to the chef. He says they talked about old times and did not mention the current situation of North Korea at all. He does admit forgetting how the party ended after he had a few drinks.

"When I regained consciousness, I was on a bed. I asked if I did anything disrespectful. No one said I did, so I felt relieved."

Fujimoto says Kim gave him a free pass to visit North Korea whenever he wanted, an invitation few have. The benefit of the visit for Kim's international reputation is not lost on Fujimoto.

"I said clearly that if I go back to Japan safely, the reputation of Supreme Commander 'Comrade General' would soar enormously," he said.

Fujimoto is now willing to tell all who will listen about the virtues of the young North Korean leader.

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