Japanese Money in North Korea

I’d like to thank the English edition of the Korea Times for reporting on this newest boast of superiority by the North.

North Korea Boosts Cider Production

According to the June 5 edition of Rodong Sinmun, the Workers Party’s newspaper, Kyongnyun Patriotic Cider Factory in Pyongyang is pushing for a rise in production, as well as modernizing its facilities.

The factory is named after Japanese-Korean businessman Park Kyung-ryun, who donated $150 million worth of cider manufacturing machines to set up a factory in the North Korean capital on the 70th birthday of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung in 1982. The facility currently produces 5,000 bottles of cider per hour.

Leaving aside sarcasm over the ludicrousness of a ‘Patriotic cider factory,’ it’s actually interesting to see the North Korean media bragging about an investment from overseas North Korean citizens residing in Japan. For those who don’t know, there somewhere in the neighborhood of a million people of Korean descent born and bred in Japan, but for the most part hold citizenship in either North or South Korea, and not Japan. Cash sent from North Korean-Japanese to their often unknown relatives back ‘home’ has actually been one of the things keeping people in the DPRK alive for years now. It is well known in Japan that one of the largest sources of this money is North Korean-Japanese owned pachinko parlors. Some readers may be unlucky enough to have experienced Pachinko, but for the rest- Pachinko is a mind-numbing Japanese passtime best described as a cross between a slot and pinball machine, and the most popular form of gambling in the country. Gambling is illegal in Japan, but Pachinko parlors get around it by giving you ‘prizes’ instead of cash when you trade in your winnings. You take the prize around the corner to an exchange counter (probably with no registered relationship to the parlor itself) where you then sell these prizes for cash, thus evading the letter but certainly not the spirit of the law. In any even, Pachinko’s ubiquity is proof that the government and police have no interest at all in controlling it. The following chart gives an idea of the high level of popularity that pachinko has in Japan.

(Image from here.)

Here is a good collection of links to articles discussing the connection between pachinko in Japan and North Korea.

A recent article in The Japan Times writes that:

[A new] ship bill stipulates that the government can ban, for a certain period of time, port calls by ships from a designated country or those that have stopped at that country.
The bill is designed to give the government another diplomatic card in its dealings with Pyongyang, allowing Japan to halt the flow of people, goods and hard currency between the two countries.
It follows on the heels of legislation that revised the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law, enabling the government to slap unilateral sanctions on the North by halting cash remittances to the reclusive state.

The ‘cash remittances’ mentioned in the article are gifts, donations and investments made by Japan resident North Korean citizens, and the Japanese government is finally making some attempt to control this cash flow after many years of turning a blind eye.