Until a decade ago or so, Japanese was one of the most popular languages studied by elite students in North Korea, even though the two countries have never had good relations, diplomatic or otherwise.

But today the situation is very different. At the only North Korean university where students can major in Japanese, classes of the language are sparsely attended, while mastering English or Chinese is increasingly viewed as the surest way to get a good job.

When Kyodo News was granted rare access to Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies in September, officials disclosed that only about 40 students are currently specializing in Japanese at the institution.