◉ You visited art festivals in North Korea in 1998 and 2000. Is it true that Kim Jong Il is an avid fan and has all eight Princess Tenko figures?
◉ According to some reports, you have not met Kim Jong Il in person. Is that true?
I did meet him.
◉ Why have you not revealed in other interviews that you met him?
North Korean officials kept telling me that the country is at war, and that I can reveal official things but not unofficial things. They kept saying, “Now it’s official” . . . and then, “Now it’s not.”
In the end it became confusing. I was also afraid that what I said could have serious consequences, so I decided to tell all the media at the time that I didn’t see him.
◉ Is it OK to reveal that now?
Manager: At that time, North Korean relations were even more sensitive than now, with most media not even writing about it. At that time, it was like a taboo, but the situation has changed.
◉ What did you talk about with Kim Jong Il?
Well, about the world of entertainment and about illusion … but also ordinary things. He was very interested in Japan. He seemed to have thought I was American, and he praised me for my success in the U.S. despite being Japanese.
It was almost ready in 2000. The difference between regular theater and this one was that it has many features that can be used for illusions, like secret doors. They showed me all those.
◉ What was it called?
They called it the Princess Tenko Theater.
◉ In 2006, U.S.-based GQ magazine claimed that your passport was taken away during your visit to North Korea in 1998, and that they didn’t let you leave.
Manager: It was a similar situation in 2000. Both times, her return to Japan was drastically delayed.
◉ Did they say you couldn’t leave?
Yes. But the first time (1998) wasn’t so bad. They let me go after I said I would return in a few months, and that I needed my own stuff.
◉ But strange things apparently started to happen after you refused to visit in 1999.
There were phone calls where someone tells me to go to North Korea, and two men pretending to be policemen tried to take me away.
◉ It has also been reported that a replica of a high-value, antique Mickey Mouse that was stolen from your car in 1998 was mysteriously placed in you home.
◉ Did the police determine these were North Korean plots?
That’s what they said.
Manager: From 1998 to 2000 there was less information about the North, and what she saw or experienced was not well known to the rest of the world. In that sense, many intelligence agencies — from Japan, the U.S., China, South Korea and Europe — tried to get in touch with her.
Japanese police concluded that was the case, but private citizens like us have no access to the truth.
◉ But then you went again in 2000.
In 2000 there was lots of pressure, including on my family, for me to visit the North. I couldn’t cause my family trouble, so I thought I should go and talk. For my protection, I borrowed a TV camera from TV Asahi and broadcast what I was doing there. But again, my stay ended up being long.
◉ There was a report that you fell seriously ill during your 2000 visit.
It was a big mental shock to hear that they would not let me leave. I asked to see Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor I also met in 1998. He said that I should stop using the medicine or drips that were given to me, and he gave me German medicine. But North Korean officials got angry and he had to leave. My condition worsened and I couldn’t stand up anymore, so I had to stay in hospital there for a month.
◉ Why did they say you couldn’t leave?
They said that in the North there is a theater where I could work, a place to live, a maid — and I could live comfortably. So they said there was no need whatsoever for me to leave.
◉ So how did you manage to leave in the end?
I said in a very straightforward manner that I promised to return in one month, but there was work I had to do in Japan. I also said there was voiceover work for a U.S. animation that couldn’t be done by anyone else.
◉ Did you get chased after that?
Yes, for a long time. There have also been scary things. I had police and security protect me.
◉ Will you go to North Korea again?
I don’t go now because there is no need for me to go.
◉ Is it also because you might not be able to come back?
Finally, do you think there will be another Tenko Hikita to succeed you?
One male Tenko Hikita, then a female Tenko Hikita; I think it’s complete.
Manager: She is in a “Hitori Takarazuka-jotai
(Single-person Takarazuka situation)” — referring to the Kansai theater comprising many flashy actresses. She is the only star — forever.