North Korean garbage offers clues to country, Japanese scholar says

Toshio Miyatsuka has been picking up garbage from the streets of Pyongyang since 1991.
By Elizabeth Shim  |  March 25, 2016 at 12:52 PM
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TOKYO, March 25 (UPI) -- Cigarette packets, discarded textbooks and a $2,000 telephone directory could offer clues to the hidden world of North Korea, according to a retired Japanese academic who has visited the country nearly 50 times.

Toshio Miyatsuka, one of Japan's leading experts on North Korea, has been collecting garbage inside the secretive state since the early 1990s, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"I realized the true picture of this country may lie in its garbage," said Miyatsuka, who previously taught modern Korean history at Yamanashi Gakuin University, in Yamanashi Prefecture.

The 68-year-old collector has been picking up garbage from the streets of Pyongyang since 1991, and his collection holds rare items, including food-rationing certificates that show less food distributed in the period of famine from 1995-98.

Miyatsuka was able to collect the items without permission for decades – and the first items he accrued were cigarette boxes and cigarette butts.

The cigarette packets were of different brands, indicating wealthier people in North Korea smoke better quality tobacco, Miyatsuka said.

One of his most prized possessions is a phone directory for which he paid $2,000.

During one of his trips, Miyatsuka had attempted to steal the book as a source of information on state agencies.

The Japanese national was banned from the country for a period of time, but he eventually was able to purchase the book for $2,000.

Chinese authorities have detained Miyatsuka and his wife in the past but such experiences have not deterred him.

"It's like wanting to see your ex-girlfriend again," he said. "If I couldn't get inside the country, I figured I'd go to its border."

Lee Young Hwa, a professor at Kansai University in Osaka, and a spokesman for a Japanese NGO representing North Korean refugees, said Miyatsuka is a top source on North Korea, South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported.

Miyatsuka is planning his 48th trip to North Korea.

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