Antonio Inoki on Tuesday announced he will make a return visit to North Korea this week, as the DPRK celebrates the day of its foundation on September 9.
Kanji Inoki, 74, better known as Antonio Inoki, is a former professional wrestler and a current member of Japan’s House of Councillors.
Speaking at the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he said he will leave Tokyo for North Korea on Wednesday and stay in Pyongyang from Thursday until next Monday.
“Starting from tomorrow, I will be on a visit to North Korea,” Inoki said. “I hope (my visit) will help ease tensions and resume dialogue with North Korea.”
Inoki told reporters the purpose of his visit was to build world peace through sports, and that this will be his 32nd trip to North Korea, having most recently visited a year ago in the wake of Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test.
He told reporters he is aware of the pros and cons of his visit to Pyongyang this time around, but said he wanted to go and hear North Korean views on the current tensions.
Inoki gave few specifics about his itinerary but said he will meet many of the country’s leaders.
The Japanese government discourages its citizens from travel to North Korea as part of unilateral sanctions against the DPRK.
Inoki organized a major wrestling event in Pyongyang in April 1995, which reportedly attracted about 380,000 local attendees over two days.
He has longstanding connections with North Korea: his former professional wrestling master Rikidozan– who became a national hero in Japan in the 1950s – originally came from South Hamgyong province, DPRK.
Kim Yong Suk, Rikidozan’s daughter in Pyongyang, later married Pak Myong Chol, a former Minister of Physical Culture and Sports and a councilor on the National Defense Commission (NDC), deepening ties with Inoki.
Rikidozan found and scouted Inoki, then 17, in 1960 in Brazil during a professional wrestling tour to São Paulo. Inoki’s family had immigrated to Brazil when he was 13.
Inoki’s frequent trips to North Korea have not been without controversy. In 2013, he was banned from the Japanese Diet for 30 days for making an unauthorized trip to the DPRK.
The announcement comes as the Nikkei Asian Review on Tuesday reported on an alleged Japanese government plan for a hypothetical mass evacuation of the nearly 60,000 Japanese citizens currently living in or visiting South Korea.
Tokyo is reportedly working on a four-tier emergency plan based on the severity of the situation: discouraging unessential travel to South Korea, discouraging all travel to South Korea, urging Japanese citizens to evacuate, and finally, urging them to take shelter.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Kosuke Takahashi
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