The North Korean who revels in his culture but calls Japan his home wants to make a mark in the I-League in 2016
As the news broke that North Korean striker Kim Song-Yong has been signed by Bengaluru Football Club during the close of season, there was an air of intrigue around the man who represents a country that is shrouded in mystery.
But North Korea is alive in Song-Yong more as a culture than as his homeland. A deep seated love and affection imbibed in him by his family and perhaps even a longing of never being part of the land from which his family hailed will always be a part of him.
Born and raised in Japan, it was his family connections and pride that made up his mind to choose North Korea, after his ancestors, like many during the time of World War II, chose to stay behind in Japan following the war and came to be known as Zainichi Korean.
“I was born in Japan and I live there, only my nationality is North Korea. I have been there only couple of times. Once when I went to play for the national team and once when I was in high school,” Song-Yong recalls of his connection.
“I had the option to play for Japan. But it was a different culture. After the World War II, my grandfather and grandmother came to Japan so my father was also born in Japan. So was my mother. But, we have an immense pride and identity in our culture. I went to Korean high school in Japan too,” says the striker.
The 28-year-old has also done his part in continuing the family tradition by representing North Korea. A tradition started by his father Kim Kwang-Ho, who was the first Japan-born North Korean to represent the country.
“My father is a legend. He was born in Japan and he lived there. He was also a North Korean national football team player. The first time he went to the national team, it was difficult for him to adjust because he was the first Zainichi Korean to play for the national team. Some of them were not very happy about it. But he played three to four years for the national team so they accepted him,” he revealed.
Asked about his time with the team and the truth behind the often heard whispers about Kim Jong-Un, the Supreme Leader of the country who rules with an iron fist, and his association with the team, the lanky striker revealed: “There is no pressure from the leader on the team. They respect him but there is no pressure. They have good players and coaches who are professionals. It was a good experience.”
Having started his football journey at the age of five and playing through his school years, the life of a footballer has seen Song-yong play in the Japan League for three years before plying his trade in Thailand and with Rangdajied United and Royal Wahingdoh in the I-League and finally arriving at Bengaluru FC.
But through it all, the same sense of belonging and pride has been the driving factor for the former Kyoto Sanga striker. A quest to get back to his roots.
“I want to score a minimum of 10 goals this season. I want to play in Japan again and if I do well this season, maybe I can go back to Japan and also play for the national team,” he hopes.
When asked about any culture shock he experienced here, pat came the reply with a smile and a parting wave. “It is good here. I like the city and am comfortable here. The support, the coaches and players are all good. Only language is a bit of a problem There is no drastic change in culture between Japan and India. We are all human after all,” says the thinking footballer.