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Japanese language course launched at leading N. Korean university

This photo taken Aug. 23, 2019, shows Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. The university opened a Japanese language and culture study course in the spring of 2017. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- North Korea's Kim Il Sung University in the spring of 2017 set up a course for specializing in Japanese language and Japanese literature, it was learned by Saturday from the university.

The training course for Japanese researchers was established at the prestigious institution in the capital at a time when North Korea was repeatedly testing nuclear weapons and launching ballistic missiles, which continued until the fall of 2017 and led to heightened tensions with the United States.

There is a possibility that it was judged necessary to strengthen the development of such experts in view of future diplomacy with Japan. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations.

The Department of Japanese Language and Literature was established in the university's Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature. Many of the some 20 students enrolled are graduates of the high school affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, having previously studied Japanese.

North Korea has traditionally had a specialized Japanese language course at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies.

However, with the recent deterioration of Japan-North Korea relations, graduates of the course have found limited opportunities for employment, leading to a drop in the number of enrollments.

An official at Kim Il Sung University said of the establishment of the Department of Japanese Language and Literature, "It seems that the absence of specialists in the language and culture of neighboring countries was against the national interest."

In August of this year, the department interacted for the first time with Japanese university students who accompanied a nongovernmental organization that was conducting a cultural exchange in North Korea.

It was realized at the request of Kim Il Sung University, which came to know that this NGO had been organizing exchanges between Japanese university students and students of the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies for seven years.

Jong Ryol, a Japanese instructor at Kim Il Sung University, said, "I haven't had opportunities to practice Japanese so far, so I think that such encounters will be of benefit to me."

First-year student Kim Jun Hak, 17, who aspires to be a teacher, said, "I want to increase the number of Japanese-speaking human resources to help normalize diplomatic relations."

A 23-year-old male Japanese graduate school student of Osaka City University who took part in the exchange in North Korea, said, "To boost mutual understanding, the opportunity to approach each other directly is important."

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