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Wednesday, January 10, 2018, 18:15 - 20:30



Robert S. Boynton

Professor of Journalism

New York University

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During the 1970s and early eighties, dozens – perhaps hundreds – of  Japanese civilians were kidnapped by North Korean commandos and forced to live in ‘Invitation-Only Zones’ in North Korea, high-security detention centres masked as exclusive areas, on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The objective? To brainwash the abductees with the regime’s ideology, and train them to spy on the state’s behalf. But the project faltered; when indoctrination failed. The captives were forced to teach North Korean operatives how to pass as Japanese, to help them infiltrate hostile neighboring nations. For years, the Japanese and North Korean authorities brushed off these disappearances, but in 2002 Kim Jong-il admitted to the kidnapping of thirteen citizens, returning five of them.

In The Invitation-Only Zone, Boynton speaks with the abductees, nationalists and diplomats, to try and untangle both the kidnappings and the intensely complicated relations between North Korea and Japan. The book tells “the story of the story” of how a series of 1970s era kidnappings became the “abduction issue,” rather than focusing on one aspect (history, human rights, diplomacy, activism). He concludes that a profound sense of loss lies at the emotional heart of the issue, both for the families of the missing, and for the Japanese nation as a whole. Although little progress has been made on an international level, the abduction issue has become a fixture in Japanese domestic politics. He worries that the abductions are being reduced to a symbolic historical grievance, joining the group of international disputes – over the Comfort Women, Dokdo/Takeshima, Senkaku/Diaoyu – with which China, Japan and the Koreas confront each other.  The book was first published in 2016 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the U.S. and by Atlantic Books in UK. Its Japanese-language edition was published in 2017 by Kashiwashobo (柏書房).

Robert S. Boynton is a professor of journalism at New York University, the director of NYU’s Literary Reportage program, and the editor of The New New Journalism. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic monthlyThe New York Times Magazine and many others. At FCCJ he will speak about the eight years he spent reporting on the abduction issue and the challenge of explaining it to an English speaking audience.


The library committee is offering a cocktail party–"Meet the Author"–starting at 6:15 pm, followed by dinner at 6:45 pm (Menu: Grilled Salmon with Herb; Seasonal Salad; Bread; Soufflé Swiss Roll; Coffee or Tea). Drinks can be ordered on a cash basis from the bar in the room. Book Break charges are 2,100yen / 3,500yen (members / non-members) per person. The member price is applicable to members’ guests.

To FCCJ members: Sign up now at the reception desk (03-3211-3161) or on the FCCJ website. To help us plan proper seating and food preparation, please reserve in advance, preferably by noon of the day of the event. Those without reservations will be turned away once available seats are filled. Reservations cancelled less than 24 hours in advance will be charged in full.

To non-members: Sign up now at the reception desk by email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ). Please reserve and pay in advance by Thursday, January 4. Those without reservations will be turned away once available seats are filled. No refund is available unless the event is cancelled for the reasons on our part.

(The talk will be in English)


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