The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

Robert S. Boynton

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0374175845

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

Robert S. Boynton

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0374175845

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A bizarre, little-known tale about the most secretive culture on earth

For decades, North Korea denied any part in the disappearance of dozens of Japanese citizens from Japan’s coastal towns and cities in the late 1970s. But in 2002, with his country on the brink of collapse, Kim Jong-il admitted to the kidnapping of thirteen people and returned five of them in hopes of receiving Japanese aid. As part of a global espionage project, the regime had attempted to reeducate these abductees and make them spy on its behalf. When the scheme faltered, the captives were forced to teach Japanese to North Korean spies and make lives for themselves, marrying, having children, and posing as North Korean civilians in guarded communities known as “Invitation-Only Zones”―the fiction being that they were exclusive enclaves, not prisons.

From the moment Robert S. Boynton saw a photograph of these men and women, he became obsessed with their story. Torn from their homes as young adults, living for a quarter century in a strange and hostile country, they were returned with little more than an apology from the secretive regime.

In The Invitation-Only Zone, Boynton untangles the bizarre logic behind the abductions. Drawing on extensive interviews with the abductees, Boynton reconstructs the story of their lives inside North Korea and ponders the existential toll the episode has had on them, and on Japan itself. He speaks with nationalists, spies, defectors, diplomats, abductees, and even crab fishermen, exploring the cultural and racial tensions between Korea and Japan that have festered for more than a century.

A deeply reported, thoroughly researched book, The Invitation-Only Zone is a riveting story of East Asian politics and of the tragic human consequences of North Korea’s zealous attempt to remain relevant in the modern world.

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families and wouldn’t be missed. Japan’s traditional family registration system (koseki) had yet to be fully centralized in the late seventies, so there was no reliable national database against which a forged passport could be compared. And a Japanese passport granted the holder access to virtually any country on earth. *   *   * “Thank you for coming, Madame Choi. I am Kim Jong Il.”5 Choi Eun-hee, South Korea’s most famous actress, felt a sense of terror the moment she heard his name. It was

Russia and China, usually in his private, bulletproof train, Kim never traveled abroad. Still, he knew where to find the best of everything. He sent Fujimoto to Denmark for pork, Iran for caviar, France for wine, Czechoslovakia for beer, and Japan for seafood and appliances. “However, Kim insisted his refrigerators must come from the U.S., since they made the best ones. He gave me one as a present. It was enormous, created ice quickly, and held tons of food at all different temperatures,”

to catalogue his vast holdings; in Agassiz, Morse found a father figure who, unlike his own father, encouraged his scientific work. “There is no better man in the world,” Morse wrote of Agassiz in his journal. Paid twenty-five dollars per month, plus room and board, Morse became one of Agassiz’s assistants, an elite group, destined to become some of America’s foremost natural historians and museum directors. A classically educated European, Agassiz was as much their mentor as their employer,

their children? “If war comes, Mom and I won’t be able to stay here,” he explained to his daughter. “Before we leave, I’ll put a letter in a bottle and bury it next to that grave,” he said, gesturing at a small plot. The letter would specify a place to meet at five o’clock in the evening on the first and fifteenth of every month. She was to wait thirty minutes and then repeat the process until he showed. “This is a secret between you and me. Don’t tell anyone, not even your brother,” he

known. Is this what’s in store, I wondered, for the immigrants Japan so desperately needs in order to save itself from extinction? I’d barely started my work when something odd began to happen. About halfway through an interview for the abduction article, my subjects, unbidden by me, would start to talk about Japan’s “Korean problem.” When I guided them back to the topic of the abductions, some postulated that the abductees had been tarnished in North Korea, even “brainwashed,” and might now be

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