Japanese tour neighborhoods of their childhood in North Korea

Kyodo

A group of Japanese who used to live in North Korea toured Chongjin in the country’s northeast Tuesday, with some recalling their childhoods in the port city as they visited for the first time in 68 years.

Eleven members of Kita Izoku Renraku Kai, a group seeking to retrieve the ashes of relatives who died in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula around the end of World War II, visited a railway station and saw the city from a mountain scenery viewing spot.

Takashi Fukushima, 78, from Kumamoto Prefecture, who moved to the city known as a ferrous-metal producing center with his family in 1942 when he was 8, said that while buildings in the city have greatly changed, natural landmarks remain almost intact.

“I clearly remember the day when I first arrived at the Chongjin station with my family. I ate a rice ball at a waiting room of the station and then headed to our house in the direction of a mountain,” he said in front of the station.

From the mountain vista point, Fukushima pointed toward a pier full of wooden fishing boats and said: “The harbor is almost the same as what it used to be. When I was a child, there was also a white sand beach. It brings back old memories.

“My father died in what is now North Korea at the age of 49. I always wondered why he had to die so young,” he said. “Now I’m here because my father called on me to visit here while I’m still in good shape.”

Tatsuo Kondo, 79, who was born in Chongjin and now lives in Kanagawa Prefecture, deplored the apparent slow economic progress of the city, saying: “I guess industrial development of this city has been delayed due to economic sanctions. I hope my birthplace will develop further.”

The Japanese visitors also stopped at Ranam, south of Chongjin, where Satoru Imamura, 79, and his sister, Yoshiko, 73, lived when they were children.

“As 68 years have passed since I left here, the landscape is totally different. Where my house was located is a park now, and a busy shopping street in the city center is gone. It has become a very quiet place,” said Satoru Imamura, while looking at an old map of the city. “I don’t feel like I’m standing at my birthplace.”

Satoru Imamura was born in Ranam and lived there until he was 11.

The Japanese visitors, who resettled in Japan after the war, are on a 12-day trip through next Tuesday to visit sites believed to contain the remains of their relatives.

The visit is the fifth of its kind since North Korea allowed a tour last August on humanitarian grounds to visit burial sites.