Government OKs Inoki’s first visit to North since easing of sanctions

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

The Abe administration sees no problem with the possibility of Upper House lawmaker Antonio Inoki making another visit to North Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday after sanctions were partially lifted last week in return for progress on Pyongyang’s second investigation into the abduction issue.

“We do not intend to take specific steps against travel from Japan to North Korea,” Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said at a regular news conference.

“We understand that Mr. Inoki and other lawmakers are visiting North Korea for their own reasons. For our part, the government will closely watch how North Korea will conduct the probe by its special investigation committee, based on our bilateral accord,” he said.

Inoki, 71, a former professional wrestler who was elected to the Upper House as a member of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), has expressed a willingness to visit North Korea together with other opposition lawmakers from Wednesday.

Inoki told a news conference in Tokyo that during the visit he will make preparations to co-host an international wrestling exhibition in North Korea next month. He said some 20 grapplers from around the world, including the United States and France, will take part in the two-day event in Pyongyang.

The former wrestling legend — whose own contribution to far-fetched fight story lines enthralled millions in Japan during his career — would not reveal the names of any of the athletes, but he said his visit might also include meetings with high-level officials.

“I’ve been working on contributing to world peace through sports, and I hope to keep doing this work in the future,” Inoki, wearing his trademark red scarf, told the news conference.

“In my past visits I met with senior (North Korean) government officials, and I think it will be the case this time, too,” he said.

“But I can’t announce the names of the competitors until right before the visit.”

Japan decided last week to remove unilateral restrictions on travel between the two countries, fund transfers in the form of remittances and carried cash, and the entry of North Korean-registered ships, excluding the Mangyongbong-92 ferry, into Japanese ports for humanitarian purposes.