A Japanese professional wrestler-turned-lawmaker left on a visit to North Korea yesterday for talks with officials after a high-profile leadership purge in the reclusive state.
“I will just check the faces of people standing on the stage after some change in the [North Korean leadership] structure,” Senator Antonio Inoki told reporters before leaving Tokyo’s Haneda airport, according to Jiji Press.
He is to fly into Pyongyang today after a stopover in Beijing.
Inoki, 70, is a frequent visitor to North Korea. During his last trip in November last year, he met Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who was long considered his key adviser. Jang was purged and executed last month after being branded a counter-revolutionary.
Inoki, an opposition member of the Japanese upper house, is head of a non-profit organization which aims to establish sports-based exchanges, and opened an office in the North Korean capital last month.
After the November trip, Inoki, a member of the tiny opposition Japan Restoration Party, was suspended for a month from the legislature for visiting Pyongyang without parliamentary permission while the house was sitting.
The latest trip does not require the Japanese parliament’s approval because it is in recess.
He is scheduled to return to Tokyo on Thursday.
Inoki’s secretary said the senator would not know until he arrived in Pyongyang who he will have talks with.
His secretary added: “His talks with North Korean senior officials are likely to take up diplomacy through sports, and the possibility of other Japanese parliamentarians visiting the country.”
Inoki, whose mentor in professional wrestling was the late Korean-born Mitsuhiro Momota, aka Rikidozan, has visited North Korea nearly 30 times since 1994.
In 1995, he organized a sports festival in Pyongyang featuring bouts between Japanese and US pro wrestlers.