Kim Jong Il's favorite magician, a Japanese woman who goes by the stage name Princess Tenko, has been invited to attend his funeral in North Korea — even though Pyongyang has announced that no foreign dignitaries will be allowed to come and pay respects.
Princess Tenko (also known as Tenko Hikita), 51, performed magic shows in North Korea in 1998 and 2000 and attended numerous private dinners hosted by Kim, who died last weekend. She is renowned for her elaborate costumes and doll make-up.
Tenko's manager told Japan's Kyodo news agency that she has been invited to the December 28 funeral in Pyongyang, but has not yet decided whether to attend.
On previous visits to the country, she was prevented from returning home and was pressured to remain in North Korea.
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"I received the invitation via a phone call and an email from a member of Kim's family," said Tenko, according to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper. "And I was asked to wear white."
North Korea has reportedly said that foreign representatives will not be allowed to attend the funeral. But they appear to have made an exception for Princess Tenko.
According to the Japan Times, Kim owned all eight versions of the Princess Tenko doll, and built a theater in Pyongyang bearing her name.
When Tenko met the North Korean leader, they spoke "about the world of entertainment and about illusion ... but also ordinary things. He was very interested in Japan," she said in a 2007 interview.
But the relationship soon turned dark. Tenko said that during her 1998 visit, Pyongyang delayed her leaving and released her only when she promised to return soon. She put off the second trip until 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… 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," she told the Japan Times.
Tenko said that on her second visit to North Korea, she fell ill and was stuck in hospital for a month. When she finally managed to leave the country, she was followed back in Japan.
"There have also been scary things. I had police and security protect me," she said.
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The last time Tenko met the reclusive leader was at a 2009 dinner party, the Chosun Ilbo said. Kim, who loved to drink Hennessy cognac, reportedly drank several glasses of whisky and then joked around with the magician, "affecting a limp as a byproduct of his stroke," which he suffered in 2008.
Tenko said she entertained dinner party guests by performing a Houdini-type escape from a tank filled with water.
According to the Chosun Ilbo, quoting Japanese media.
Kim ordered the tank to be filled with two tons of Evian water. Kim said that because the water in North Korea was not as clean as that used in Japan, mineral water would be better for her skin.
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