North Korea in Japan
The Mangyongbong-92, a North Korean ferry, arrived in Niigata today. The ferry makes several trips between North Korea and Japan each year, and is one of the few direct links between North Korea and the free world. The Mangyongbong-92 is allowed to dock in Japan despite the fact that North Korea has an openly hostile relationship with Japan. The fact that hundreds of Japanese police were mobilized to ensure the safety of the ferry and its crew made it clear that a lot of people in Japan do not like North Korea(Over 100 ultranationalist loud-speaker trucks have shown up in Niigata to welcome the North Koreans with a barrage of anti-North Korean speeches).
The ferry visits Japan for the sake of the many North Korean passport-holders who currently reside in Japan. Most of these North Koreans have lived in Japan for several generations and are decendants of Korean laborers who were living in Japan at the end of World War 2. All Koreans living in Japan at that time were given the option of returning to one of the Koreas or claiming North or South Korean citizenship and remaining in Japan. Since Korea was technologically and industrially backwards at the time, many of the Korean laborers chose to remain in Japan. North Korea, with a better industrial infrastructure and inspiring leadership, was the preferred country of citizenship for most of these Koreans. Since then, North Korea’s popularity has declined, and today only about 35% of the 610,000 Korean residents in Japan claim North Korean citizenship. The Japanese government isn’t entirely sure how to deal with them, so they are allowed to set up their own schools, universities, and businesses without much interference from the authorities. They are also allowed to travel back and forth between Japan and North Korea, often using the Mangyongbong-92.
It might seem strange that North Korea would allow some of its citizens to travel back and forth between North Korea’s brutal oppression and Japan’s open prosperity, but there is a very good reason to allow it; foreign currency. The North Korean citizens in Japan are one of the biggest sources of foreign currency for Pyongyang, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to the regime each year. One of the major sources of this currency are pachinko parlors owned by North Koreans. It is estimated that 1/3 of the pachinko parlors in Japan are owned by North Korean businesses. Considering the number of pachinko parlors in Japan, it is a huge figure. North Korean citizens in Japan also help send electronics, automobiles and other luxuries back to Korea. Most of the cars driven by Pyongyang’s leadership are Japanese cars(with the company markings cleverly removed). Much of this wealth and material is shipped back to North Korea on the Mangyongbong-92.
The Japanese authorities have made attempts to stop the Mangyongbong-92 from being allowed to dock in Japan, occasionally banning the ferry’s service for periods of a few months. Extensive safety inspections are carried out on the ship each time it makes a port call in Japan, partly to agitate the Koreans, and partly to find problems that can be used as an excuse to ban the ferry. The Japanese government’s current policy seems to be the acceptance of Mangyongbong-92 as a form of improving relations with North Korea. The ferry might smuggle mission parts and technology back to the North, but the Japanese seem to be more concerned about obtaining info from Pyongyang on the fate of a few kidnapped Japanese citizens. Oh well.