Thousands of Koreans in Japan turn out to mourn Kim Il Sung

July 18, 1994|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Providing strong evidence that support for the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung extends beyond the propaganda machine he created, tens of thousands of Korean residents in Japan turned out yesterday to pay homage to his legacy.

Numerous small services were conducted throughout the country, and 10,000 were said to have attended a memorial in Osaka. In Tokyo, 20,000 people ignored a heat wave to converge on a North Korean-affiliated school.

Those arriving hours early squeezed into a vast gymnasium while the majority, all elegantly dressed in dark funeral attire and traditional Korean pleated dresses, waited patiently under a scorching midday sun.

A young woman collapsed during the 45-minute oration at the beginning of the service -- either from the oppressive temperature, or from sorrow. She was quickly carried away, while many of the elderly in the crowd quietly wept.

Mr. Kim was eulogized by Li Chin Gyo, a leader in a pro-Pyongyang association here, for giving dignity to the Koreans in Japan, most of whom were brought over as slave labor during a 35-year period of Japanese colonization ending in 1945.

Mourners such as Kang Hess, 25, spoke of Mr. Kim less as a head of state than as an all-knowing parent, providing personal assistance for their lives.

"I lost my father, I lost my purpose, I lost my goals," echoed Kim Yu Sung, a woman in her early 20s who said that she had received a scholarship for study in Japan directly from the North Korean leader.

Yesterday's service in Tokyo had been scheduled to coincide with Mr. Kim's funeral in Pyongyang. But the North delayed the funeral until tomorrow, and Japanese supporters were unwilling to have their service conflict with a work day, organizers said.

The North has invited mourners from rival South Korea to attend Mr. Kim's funeral, but the South, which rarely allows travel to the North by its citizens, called the invitation a propaganda ploy and refused permission for any trips.

Yesterday, Pyongyang denounced South Korea's president, Kim Young Sam, for the decision.

"We cannot consider that the South Korean chief executive is of the same blood with our compatriots," the North's Korean Central News Agency cited an official statement as saying.

"Our nation will surely settle accounts with him for his towering crime, which will be cursed down through the generations," the report said.

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