The North Korean government announced on Friday, Aug. 7 that it will be changing its time zone on Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. When Japan annexed Korea in 1910 it changed the country’s clocks to the same time as Tokyo. The defeat of the Japanese also freed the Korean Peninsula from Japanese rule.
The time zone, named Pyongyang time, will mean that North Koreans will set their clocks 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan. Currently North Korea is nine hours ahead of Universal Time/GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). That means when it is noon in England, it is 9 p.m. in Japan, 9 in South Korea, 8:30 in No. Korea, and 8 p.m. in China. Some experts wonder if this also indicates that North Korea seeks to be closer to its only ally, China.
“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. Chang Yong-seok, a North Korea expert at Seoul National University, saw the clock change as a power move.
“With the new time zone, Kim Jong-un is reasserting his code words of self-reliance and national dignity to his people. Whatever difficulties and inconveniences the new time zone may cause are nothing to his government, compared with its propaganda value at home.”
North Koreans already have their own calendar. Instead of using the Christian calendar which starts with the birth of Christ, they began their calendar with the birth of founding leader, Kim Il Sung. Kim was born in 1912 — known in North Korea as Juche 1, making this year Juche 104.
The idea of a country setting its own time is not new. Originally in the United States towns set their own clocks. The advent of the railroad forced cities to adopt more standard times. So the U.S. went from more than 100 time zones to the four zones we now have.
Universally there are 24 time zones, one for each line of the 24 hours it takes for the Earth to make a full rotation. They are loosely marked as longitudinal lines. However, historically each country has decided time zones themselves, often for ease in communication and transportation.
China and India both have several lines of longitude but have chosen to have only one time for the entire country. In China the entire country sets its time to Beijing time despite physically spanning five time zones. Because it covers so much territory those living in the far western province of Xinjiang means many start their day and end work late – a normal lunch hour is at 2pm – and in the summer you could see sunset at midnight.
Most Americans are not aware that some countries, as now with No. Korea, have decided to use zones that are 15, 30 or 45 minute ahead or behind of GMT. Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT because the people wanted to the meridian of Nepal Standard Time at Gaurishankar, a mountain east of Kathmandu. That means that the country’s clocks are 15 minutes later than the time in India. One national joke is that Napalis are always 15 minutes late. In 2007, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez decided to turn the country’s clocks back by half an hour so that there would be a “more fair distribution of the sunrise” to residents.