Editor's note: This guest post to GroundTruth was provided by NK News, a Washington, DC-based independent news site focused on North Korea. We thought it offered a tiny glimpse into one of the opaque regimes in the world. A version of this post was originally published here.
TOKYO — The blossoming friendship between Kim Jong Un—supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—and retired American basketball superstar Dennis Rodman doesn’t seem so unlikely to Jong Un’s longtime friend and sushi chef for his father, Kenji Fujimoto (a pseudonym, of course).
In fact, Fujimoto said in a recent exclusive interview with NK News, Kim is a natural-born ruler, and the first signs of his high-quality leadership potential were manifest on the basketball court at a very early age.
Kenji Fujimoto served as chef to the former North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Il—Kim Jong Un’s father—as well as a close companion to the junior Kim for more than 10 years, until leaving North Korea in 2001.
In his time with Jong Il’s three children Fujimoto was required to play two roles: the chef, who was on sushi duty, and the playmate, who wrote birthday cards—a task Fujimoto said makes him sure that Kim Jong Un’s birthday is January 8, 1983, and not the 1982 date noted by Pyongyang or the 1984 date noted by South Korean intelligence—and refereed basketball games for Kim Jong Un and his older brother, Jong Chol.
The young Kims played basketball from their early childhood—a hobby that was highlighted in yesterday’s FRONTLINE special on the secretive republic—because their father, the famously diminutive Dear Leader, hoped this would cause them to grow taller.
Fujimoto played an instrumental role here, bringing a basketball rulebook from Japan and frequently refereeing games for the Kim boys.
Jong Un in particular frequently wore a pair of basketball jerseys; one of which bore the number made famous by Michael Jordan in his playing days.
The other? The number worn by Dennis Rodman.