A Japanese parliamentarian arrived in North Korea on Thursday with more than 20 pro-wrestlers to stage a rare combat sports extravaganza this weekend, saying that he will seek world peace from one of the world’s most isolated countries.
The visit by Antonio Inoki, an opposition party lawmaker, comes as Japan and North Korea, which have never had diplomatic relations, are trying to resolve major outstanding issues.
Japan last month lifted some unilateral sanctions against North Korea in return for its opening of a fresh probe into the whereabouts of at least 12 Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
The two-day event in the North Korean capital, bringing together 21 fighters from countries including Japan, Brazil, China, France and the United States, is expected to attract some 40,000 spectators.
Following the removal of the sanctions, which included travel restrictions to and from North Korea, nearly 60 Japanese tourists are expected to arrive Friday in Pyongyang to watch the show in the Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium.
In addition to pro-wrestling matches, it will feature demonstrations of Japanese and Korean martial arts.
”From Pyongyang, I’d like to appeal for peace to the rest of the world,” Inoki, wearing his trademark red scarf, told a press conference shortly after his arrival with the fighters, including Bob Sapp from the United States and Jerome Le Banner from France.
This is Inoki’s 30th visit to North Korea. The 71-year-old former pro-wrestling star, whose real first name is Kanj, expressed his appreciation to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for allowing to organize this kind of show, dubbed the ”International Pro Wrestling Festival.”
It is not clear whether Kim, who is presumed to be 31 years old and has an avid interest in sports, will appear at the festival, as he did in January when Dennis Rodman, a former American basketball celebrity, sang ”Happy Birthday” to him before an exhibition game.
On Thursday, Inoki later held talks with Kang Sok Ju, a veteran diplomat and a secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Inoki is also scheduled to meet with North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam during his stay in Pyongyang through Tuesday.
Chang Ung, North Korea’s International Olympic Committee member, who co-hosts the event with Inoki pointed out at the press conference that ”the hot wind of sports is now blowing through Korea” under the guidance of Kim and he is confident that the exhibition will be a big success.