North Korea Setting Clocks Back A Half-Hour For Some Reason

North Korea is going back in time, literally:

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea, a hermetic country stuck in the Cold War and obsessed with its long-dead founder, now wants to turn back time.

By a half-hour.

The government announced on Friday that it would create its own time zone — “Pyongyang time” — and set its clocks 30 minutes behind those ofSouth Korea and Japan. The change is set for Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, which freed the Korean Peninsula from Japanese rule.

The current time on the peninsula — nine hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time — was set by Japan. North Korean public pronouncements can be as virulently anti-Japanese as they are anti-American, so it was natural that the clock change would be billed as throwing off a hated vestige of colonial domination.

“The wicked Japanese imperialists committed such unpardonable crimes as depriving Korea of even its standard time,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Friday.

South Korea has its own historical grudges with Japan, but the time of day is not one of them. Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry in the South, said that following Pyongyang’s lead now would be confusing and expensive for a country that, unlike the North, is thoroughly integrated with the global economy.

Japan is widely resented on both sides of the border, but the North enshrines its hostility toward Japanese and other foreign “imperialists” in its Constitution and puts the resentment at the core of the country’s ruling philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance. The founder ofNorth Korea, Kim Il-sung, fought as a guerrilla against the Japanese before independence.

Mr. Kim died in 1994, and his grandson Kim Jong-un runs the country now, doing whatever he can to highlight his ancestry, even imitating his grandfather’s hairstyle and the way he held his cigarettes. His grandfather’s rhetorical themes are invoked to justify policies like maintaining an enormous military and developing nuclear weapons.

Chang Yong-seok, a North Korea expert at Seoul National University, saw the clock change in the same vein.

“With the new time zone, Kim Jong-un is reasserting his code words of self-reliance and national dignity to his people,” Mr. Chang said. “Whatever difficulties and inconveniences the new time zone may cause are nothing to his government, compared with its propaganda value at home.”

To be honest, they should probably turn the clock back a few centuries in that country. Because they certainly don’t act like modern, rational nation.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John P. says:

    I believe Venezuela did the same thing a few years ago, to show that they could stand up against “U.S. imperialism.” Look at how well that worked out for them!

  2. grumpy realist says:

    @John P.: Well, the sort of mindset that would decide to put their clocks out of synch with the rest of the world “just to show them” usually isn’t very good at running a country, either.

    Actually, I’m still more pissed about Venezuela’s deciding to turn the clocks back to 1956 when it comes to their trademark law…it’s been a fearful headache for both our office and the local lawyers we work with.

  3. JohnMcC says:

    If North Korea really really wanted to spite the rest of the world they could come up with their own cockamamie system of weights and measures. They could call 1.6 kilometers a “mile” and 1.1 liters a “quart” and then completely screw up the rest of the planet by dividing that “quart” into not decimals but fourths — call them “cups”. Und so weiter.

  4. PJ says:

    We have time zones for an obvious reason, and while most time zones are in full hours, there are a couple of places where the time difference with UTC isn’t in full hours.

    The middle of Australia is in a time zone that’s UTC +9.5.
    India is UTC +5.5.
    Newfoundland is UTC -3.5.
    Afghanistan is UTC +4.5.
    Iran is UTC +3.5.
    Sri Lanka is UTC +5.5.
    Burma is UTC +6.5.

    And Nepal is UTC +5.75 …

    Then there is the issue of standard time vs. solar time.

    If you can fit a country within the length of one timezone and that timezone would be off by 30 min, I’d rather have that than two time zones or one timezone where part of the country is off against solar time.

    It’s a bit more work to change your clocks by 30 or 15 minutes, but then how often do you do that…

    North Korea being UTC +8.5 instead of UTC +9 would be more in line with actual solar time and it was used in Korea up until Japan changed it in 1912.

    I have a bigger issue with India only having one time zone, or even worse, China only having one.

  5. All that may be true, but it strikes me that setting the clock back a half hour isn’t a very big priority in a country that can’t even feed itself.

  6. MarkedMan says:


    I have a bigger issue with India only having one time zone, or even worse, China only having one.

    FWIW, I thought the single China time zone strange when I first started traveling there. But over time I really began to appreciate it. You have a conference call at 1pm? Great, it is 1pm for everyone, although for those in the car west 1pm is close to the beginning of the workday rather than the middle.

  7. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @JohnMcC: Both Korea’s actually do have traditional measurements for many things. I don’t remember all of them but my favorite was an area measurement for housing called a pyeong, which equals approximately 1.6 square meters, if I recall correctly. It was officially ditched in about 2010 because various builders, real estate people, etc, don’t actually agree on what size it is.

  8. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: By setting the clock back, they can delay one meal by half an hour, saving untold amounts of rice and grain.

  9. TheoNott says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Actually, it makes perfect sense. The regime is doubling down on this sort of nationalistic posturing as a way of distracting it’s citizenry from their poor economic condition, which they are becoming increasingly cognizant of as information inevitably filters in from the outside.

  10. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    All that may be true, but it strikes me that setting the clock back a half hour isn’t a very big priority in a country that can’t even feed itself.

    I would assume that in a country with as little technology as North Korea this isn’t very hard to accomplish. The things that North Korea should be doing, those would be very hard.

    And others really appreciate that China is a one party state when doing business with them.

  11. Pinky says:

    So, they’re doing it for some reason…which means it’s possibly the same reason that Pataki is running for President?

  12. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Oh, that’s cold. And the plan would work better if they actually had rice and grain.

  13. Tillman says:

    You people and your naive ideas about power. It’s an autocracy! It can do whatever it wants as long as the people don’t give them reason not to! And the cultural totalitarianism has been in place in North Korea for so damn long that the place lacks all color in photographs now.

    Should write a novel about a polling firm trying to establish itself in North Korea. That’d be a slim thirty pages.