'There was something unspoken that they dare not voice. A black cloud hung over the house. As they sat behind their high walks eating their home grown vegetables a realisation sank in deeper and deeper with each passing year that a terrible mistake had been made'.

(From Barbara Demick's 'Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea')

Demick gives us the story of Jung Sang a young Korean man whose parents had migrated from Japan to the DPRK in the 1970s. His father was an ethnic Korean and a communist sympathiser. They apparently came to the DPRK with the belief that they could help build socialism. In the 1960s even up to the early 1989s the DPRK economy was doing relatively well by comparison with the South. Besides which the Sang family were quite privileged by North Korean standarss. they were allowed to build their own house in a quiet location with high walls to stop people looking in. They had Brought electrical appliances from Japan. They were even allowed a pet dog. What is more every year a ferry would bring relatives to visit from Japan. When his father and grandfather hugged, grandfather would shove a fat envelope stuffed full of Yen into the fathers jacket whilst the guards weren't looking.

Kang Chol Hwan came from a rich family in Kyoto. His grandmother was a leading Japanese communist and encouraged the family to North Korea. On the ferry waiters in white jackets served them an evening meal every night but when they arrived in Pyongyang the heroes welcome they had been promised never materialised and although they were housed in a salubrious area of Pyongyang they were viewed with suspicion. They had brought a car with them from Japan and were even able to obtain permission to go for jaunts into the countryside until eventually the police demanded they hand the car over to the state. (Taken from 'The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol Hwan).

To Jang Jin Sung (author of 'Dear Leader') the arrival of the Japanese in North Korea in the 1960s and 70s had a subtle but powerful effect on the Korean consciousness. Although they had been the occupying enemy now Japan and Japanese people and things were admired. They brought with them lots of consumer goods. According to Sung it was common for ordinary North Koreans to display some discarded food packaging of the Fuji-San people as a kind of household treasure.

As with Jung Sang's family many Japanese Koreans realised the nature of the DPRK after settling but were by that stage unable to leave. Letters written to other relatives in Japan warning them not to come were intercepted and destroyed.

Once their usefulness as a source of hard currency had been exhausted many Japanese Koreans were purged and ended up in gulags like Kwang Chol Hwan's family.

I think the story of Japanese migrants in North Korea is interesting and perhaps not massively widely known until now. People were still migrating from Japan to North Korea until around 1988.

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