20 bizarre things you didn’t know about North Korea

North Korea is a country located in East Asia, known for its closed and isolated society, strict government control, and controversial human rights record. The country is governed by the Workers’ Party of Korea, led by the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, who exercises near-total control over the country’s political, economic, and military activities.

North Korea has a centrally planned economy, which has struggled to provide basic necessities for its population, and the country is heavily reliant on external aid and trade with a few key allies, such as China and Russia. North Korea has been the subject of international scrutiny and sanctions due to its nuclear weapons program, human rights abuses, and aggressive rhetoric towards its neighbors and the United States. Despite the country’s challenges and isolation, North Korea remains a significant geopolitical player in the region and the world. Here are 20 bizarre things you didn’t know about North Korea

1. North Korea only has Three TV channels.

North Korea only has three state-run television channels. These channels are known as Korean Central Television (KCTV), Mansudae Television, and Ryongnamsan Television.

Korean Central Television is the country’s main television channel and broadcasts news, propaganda, and entertainment programs. Mansudae Television is a cultural and educational channel that focuses on music, dance, and art, while Ryongnamsan Television is a sports channel that covers North Korean sports events.

The programming on these channels is tightly controlled by the North Korean government, with all content being heavily censored and used to promote the government’s propaganda messages. In addition, access to foreign television channels or the internet is strictly limited, and North Koreans can only access state-approved content.

The limited number of television channels in North Korea is due to a combination of factors, including the government’s tight control over the media and limited resources for broadcasting infrastructure. However, despite the limited number of channels, television remains an important source of information and entertainment for many North Koreans.

2. Foreigners can’t use local currency

Foreigners visiting North Korea are generally required to use foreign currencies, such as the US dollar or the euro, for most transactions. The local currency in North Korea is the North Korean won, but it is not widely used or accepted outside of the country.

Foreigners visiting North Korea are typically required to exchange their foreign currencies for North Korean won at official exchange centers. However, the use of local currency is generally limited to small purchases and transactions within the country, such as buying street food or souvenirs from local markets.

It’s also worth noting that North Korea has a complex system of currency exchange rates, and the exchange rates for foreign currencies can vary widely depending on the circumstances. The government sets official exchange rates that are much lower than the market exchange rates, which can make it difficult for foreigners to understand the true value of their money in North Korea.

Overall, while foreigners are generally not allowed to use the local currency for most transactions in North Korea, they are still able to make purchases and participate in the local economy using foreign currencies.

3. Owning a Bible or any other religious material is illegal in North Korea

Owning a Bible or any other religious material is illegal in North Korea. The government strictly controls all religious activities, and the practice of any religion that is not sanctioned by the state is considered a criminal offense.

The North Korean government has a history of cracking down on religious activity, including confiscating and destroying Bibles and other religious materials. This is because the government views religion as a potential threat to its authority and ideology, and seeks to control all aspects of society, including religious belief and practice.

North Korean citizens who are caught practicing religion or possessing religious materials, including Bibles, can face severe punishment, including imprisonment, forced labor, or even execution. As a result, religion is largely underground in North Korea, and believers must practice in secret, often at great personal risk.

4. Power cut every night

Power cuts are a common occurrence in North Korea, and it’s not unusual for there to be scheduled blackouts or reductions in power supply every night. This is due to the country’s limited electricity infrastructure and resources, which are often diverted to support the military and other priority areas.

North Korea has a highly centralized energy system, with most of its electricity generated by large-scale power plants that rely on coal and hydroelectric power. However, the country has struggled to maintain and modernize its power grid, leading to frequent power outages and shortages.

The government has implemented various measures to try to mitigate the impact of power cuts on citizens, including scheduling blackouts during non-peak hours and encouraging the use of alternative energy sources like solar panels. However, power cuts remain a significant challenge for many North Koreans, who may have to rely on candles, generators, or other forms of backup power to meet their basic needs.

5. Military service is compulsory

Military service is compulsory in North Korea. Men are required to serve in the military for 10 years, while women are required to serve for 7 years. This mandatory military service is enshrined in the country’s constitution and is a cornerstone of the country’s national defense strategy.

North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world, with an estimated 1.2 million active-duty military personnel and another 7.7 million reservists. The country faces ongoing tensions with its neighbors and the international community, particularly over its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile tests, which it sees as necessary for its national defense.

Military service in North Korea is considered a duty and an honor, and those who serve are seen as defenders of the country’s sovereignty and revolutionary ideology. However, the living conditions and treatment of soldiers in North Korea are often harsh, with long hours, poor nutrition, and limited access to medical care and other basic needs.

6. Strict rules for tourists

Tourists visiting North Korea are subject to strict rules and regulations. The government heavily controls the movements and activities of tourists, and visitors are generally only allowed to travel with organized tour groups that are closely monitored by government officials.

Tourists are required to follow strict guidelines on their behavior and interactions with locals. They are often not allowed to interact freely with North Korean citizens, and are only permitted to visit certain pre-approved sites and locations. Photography and filming are also heavily restricted, and tourists are required to obtain permission before taking any pictures or videos.

The North Korean government places a high value on maintaining the country’s image and ideology, and is often wary of foreign influences and ideas that it sees as potentially threatening. As a result, tourists are expected to respect the country’s cultural and political values and to avoid engaging in any activities that may be seen as critical of the government or its leaders.

While North Korea can be an interesting destination for adventurous travelers, it’s important for visitors to be aware of the risks and limitations associated with traveling to the country. Visitors are strongly advised to comply with all local regulations and to exercise caution and good judgment at all times.

7. North Korean citizens are not allowed to leave the country

North Korean citizens face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement and are generally not allowed to leave the country without official permission. The government tightly controls all aspects of travel, including passports and visas, and citizens must obtain official approval from the government before they are allowed to leave the country.

There are a few exceptions to these rules, such as for government officials, athletes, and artists who may be allowed to travel overseas for official events or cultural exchanges. However, for most North Korean citizens, leaving the country without permission is considered a serious criminal offense and can result in imprisonment, forced labor, or other forms of punishment.

The North Korean government justifies these restrictions on the basis of national security and the need to protect the country’s sovereignty and revolutionary ideology. However, critics argue that these restrictions violate international human rights standards and deny citizens the basic right to travel and seek opportunities abroad.

8. Prison camps in North Korea

North Korea has a notorious system of prison camps, which are estimated to hold tens of thousands of political prisoners, many of whom are held without trial or access to legal representation. These camps, which are often referred to as “gulags,” are known for their harsh conditions, including forced labor, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners.

The North Korean government has consistently denied the existence of these prison camps, despite mounting evidence from human rights organizations, defectors, and other sources. However, the international community has raised concerns about the human rights situation in North Korea, including the use of forced labor, extrajudicial executions, and other abuses.

The United Nations has also conducted investigations into the situation in North Korea and has documented a range of human rights violations, including crimes against humanity committed in the country’s prison camps. The international community has called for greater accountability for these abuses and for efforts to improve the human rights situation in North Korea.

9. Permission is required to live in the national capital, Pyongyang

In North Korea, permission is required to live in the national capital, Pyongyang. The city is considered the political, cultural, and economic center of the country and is home to many of the country’s elite and government officials.

North Korea operates a system of residency permits known as “songbun,” which determines an individual’s social status and access to resources based on their family background, political loyalty, and other factors. Those with higher songbun status are more likely to be granted permission to live in Pyongyang, while those with lower status may be denied the opportunity.

The government tightly controls all aspects of residency and movement within the country, and North Koreans are required to obtain permission from authorities to travel or move to different parts of the country. This system of control is part of the broader political system in North Korea, which emphasizes the central role of the government and the importance of maintaining social order and political stability.

10. Citizens are only allowed to choose government-approved haircuts

In North Korea, there are a limited number of government-approved hairstyles that men and women are allowed to choose from. Men are typically allowed to choose from about 10 different hairstyles, while women are permitted to choose from around 18 different styles.

These approved hairstyles are intended to be conservative and conform to traditional values, and they are typically quite short for men and modestly long for women. Citizens who violate these rules regarding hairstyles may be subject to punishment, including fines or even imprisonment.

It’s worth noting that this is just one example of the many ways in which the North Korean government seeks to control the behavior and appearance of its citizens. The government tightly regulates all aspects of life in North Korea, including fashion, media, and social interactions, as part of its broader strategy of maintaining political control and social order.

11. Three-generation punishment

In North Korea, there is a practice known as “three-generation punishment” or “three-generations of punishment.” This practice involves punishing not only the person who committed a crime or is perceived to have committed a crime, but also their immediate family members and even their extended relatives.

Under this system, if someone is found guilty of a crime, their children and parents may also be punished, even if they had no involvement in the crime themselves. This punishment can take the form of forced labor, imprisonment, or even execution.

The practice is intended to create a culture of fear and obedience by punishing not only the individual who has broken the law but also their entire family and community. This approach to justice is seen as a way to prevent dissent and maintain social control, and it is one of the many ways in which the North Korean government seeks to maintain its grip on power.

12. Foreign movies, songs not allowed

Foreign movies and songs are not allowed in North Korea. The North Korean government strictly controls all media, including movies and music, and only allows propaganda and government-approved content to be distributed and consumed by the public.

In fact, the possession and distribution of foreign movies and songs are considered illegal in North Korea, and those caught watching or distributing them can face severe punishment, including imprisonment and forced labor.

The only exception to this rule is for foreign films and music that are specifically approved by the government for propaganda purposes or for special occasions, such as international festivals or events.

13. Disloyalty to the leader can mean the death penalty

In North Korea, disloyalty to the leader or the regime can be considered a grave offense and can result in severe punishment, including the death penalty. The North Korean government places a high value on loyalty to the country’s leadership and ideology, and any perceived threats or challenges to this can be met with harsh consequences.

North Korea’s legal system is based on the principle of “absolute obedience” to the leader and the ruling party. The government controls all aspects of society, including the media, education, and the economy, and actively promotes loyalty and devotion to the leadership.

Acts of disloyalty or dissent can include anything from criticizing the government or its policies, attempting to defect or flee the country, or engaging in any behavior that is seen as a challenge to the regime’s authority. Punishments for such offenses can range from imprisonment and forced labor to execution, depending on the severity of the perceived threat.

Overall, while the specific punishments for disloyalty to the leader may vary depending on the circumstances, it is clear that such actions are taken very seriously in North Korea, and can result in severe consequences for those who are deemed disloyal.

14. Own basketball rules

North Korea has its own set of basketball rules, which differ in several ways from the international standard. These rules were developed by the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who is a known basketball fan and has reportedly played the sport himself.

Some of the key differences between North Korea’s basketball rules and the international standard include:

  1. Three-pointers are worth four points: In North Korean basketball, shots made from beyond the three-point line are worth four points instead of three.
  2. Slam dunks are worth three points: Dunking the ball through the hoop is worth three points in North Korean basketball, as opposed to the two points awarded in the international standard.
  3. A timeout can only be called by the head coach: Unlike in international basketball, where players can request timeouts, only the head coach can call a timeout in North Korean basketball.
  4. No timeouts in the last three minutes of the game: In North Korean basketball, no timeouts are allowed in the last three minutes of the game, in order to promote a more fast-paced and exciting finish.
  5. Fouls are penalized differently: North Korean basketball rules penalize fouls differently than the international standard. For example, a player who commits a foul is required to sit out the rest of the game, regardless of how many fouls they have.

15. North Korea has strict customs rules and regulations

North Korea has strict customs rules and regulations in place to control the flow of goods and people into and out of the country. The government maintains a high level of control over all imports and exports, and there are many restrictions on what can be brought in or taken out of the country.

Some of the key customs rules in North Korea include:

  1. Prohibition on certain items: North Korea prohibits the import or export of certain items, including weapons, ammunition, drugs, pornography, and anti-government literature.
  2. Strict inspections: All goods entering or leaving North Korea are subject to strict inspections by customs officials. This can include physical inspections of the goods, as well as document checks and interviews with travelers.
  3. Limitations on personal belongings: Travelers entering North Korea are subject to limits on the amount of personal belongings they can bring with them. In addition, certain items may be confiscated by customs officials, including electronics and books.
  4. Restrictions on currency: There are strict limitations on the amount of foreign currency that can be brought into or taken out of North Korea. Travelers are required to declare all foreign currency upon entry and exit, and may be subject to penalties or fines for violations.
  5. Travel restrictions: North Korea tightly controls the movement of people into and out of the country. Travelers must have a valid visa and be accompanied by a guide at all times while in the country.

Overall, the customs rules in North Korea reflect the country’s strict control over all aspects of society, including trade and travel. Travelers to the country should be aware of these regulations and comply with them to avoid any legal issues or complications during their stay.

16. North Korean calendar is based on its founder’s date of birth

The North Korean calendar is officially known as the Juche calendar, and it is based on the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. Juche is the ideology that underpins North Korea’s political system, and it emphasizes self-reliance and independence from foreign influence.

The Juche calendar begins on April 15, 1912, which is the birthdate of Kim Il-sung. This makes the year 2023 in the Gregorian calendar the Juche year 112. The Juche calendar uses the same months as the Gregorian calendar, but the year is calculated differently. In the Juche calendar, the year is calculated by adding 1911 to the current year in the Gregorian calendar. For example, in 2023, the Juche year is 112 (2023 + 1911 = 3934).

The Juche calendar is used for official purposes in North Korea, including government documents and publications, as well as for daily life. The use of the Juche calendar is also seen as a symbol of the country’s independence and self-reliance.

However, it is important to note that the Gregorian calendar is also widely used in North Korea, particularly in international contexts and for business purposes. Many North Koreans are also familiar with the Chinese lunar calendar, which is used for traditional holidays and celebrations.

17. A propaganda village

One of the most well-known propaganda villages in North Korea is Kijong-dong, also known as the “Peace Village.” Located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, Kijong-dong was built in the 1950s as part of North Korea’s effort to showcase its prosperity and the superiority of its political system to the outside world.

The village was designed to appear prosperous and thriving, with high-rise apartment buildings, a hospital, a school, and a large stadium. It was also equipped with electricity and running water, which were relatively rare in North Korea at the time.

However, despite its outward appearance, Kijong-dong is widely believed to be a propaganda village, with no real residents. The buildings are reportedly empty, and the only people seen in the village are soldiers and other government officials. The loudspeakers in the village are used to broadcast propaganda messages and music across the border into South Korea.

The North Korean government denies that Kijong-dong is a propaganda village and maintains that it is a fully functioning town with real residents. However, the village remains a symbol of the North Korean government’s efforts to present a façade of prosperity and success to the outside world, even as the country faces significant economic and political challenges.

18. North Koreans can visit only 28 websites.

Access to the internet in North Korea is tightly controlled and limited to a small percentage of the population, mainly government officials, scientists, and students. North Koreans are also only able to access a limited number of websites that are approved by the government. It is estimated that North Koreans can access around 5,500 websites, but only a small number of these are actually available for general public use.

According to reports, North Koreans are only able to access 28 websites that are approved by the government. These websites include state-run media outlets, such as the Korean Central News Agency and the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, as well as a few educational and scientific websites. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are not accessible in North Korea.

The North Korean government monitors internet usage closely, and individuals who access unauthorized websites or content can face severe punishment, including imprisonment or forced labor. In addition, the government has been known to block access to certain websites or shut down the internet entirely during times of political tension or unrest.

Overall, internet access in North Korea is severely limited, and the government maintains strict control over what content is available online.

19. Human waste as fertilizer

In North Korea, human waste has been used as a fertilizer for many years, particularly in rural areas where chemical fertilizers are scarce. This practice, known as “night soil,” involves collecting human waste in buckets or containers and then using it to fertilize crops. Night soil is seen as a valuable resource in North Korea, as it is rich in nutrients and can help to improve soil quality.

However, the use of night soil as fertilizer carries significant health risks, as it can contain harmful bacteria and parasites. To reduce the risk of infection, North Korean farmers are encouraged to compost the night soil before using it on crops, but this is not always possible, especially in areas where resources are scarce.

In recent years, the North Korean government has made efforts to improve sanitation and reduce the use of night soil as fertilizer. The government has constructed more public toilets and promoted the use of modern toilets that can separate urine from feces, which can be safely used as fertilizer. The government has also promoted the use of chemical fertilizers and other agricultural inputs, although these resources remain limited in many areas.

Overall, the use of human waste as fertilizer in North Korea is a controversial practice that carries significant health risks. While the government has made some efforts to promote safer and more sustainable agricultural practices, challenges remain in improving sanitation and reducing the reliance on night soil as a fertilizer.

20. North Korea spends huge money on military

North Korea is known to spend a significant portion of its budget on its military, despite facing severe economic challenges and widespread poverty. The exact amount spent on the military is difficult to estimate, as North Korea’s budget is not transparent and many of its military activities are shrouded in secrecy.

However, experts estimate that North Korea spends around a quarter of its GDP on its military, making it one of the highest military spenders in the world as a percentage of GDP. The country has a large standing army, estimated to number around 1.2 million soldiers, as well as a significant arsenal of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s military spending has been driven by a combination of factors, including a desire to deter external threats, maintain internal security, and project strength and prestige on the world stage. The country has justified its military spending as necessary to protect itself from perceived threats, particularly from the United States and South Korea, and as a way to bolster national unity and pride.

However, the high levels of military spending have come at a significant cost to North Korea’s economy and its people. The country has faced severe food shortages, energy shortages, and other economic challenges, with many North Koreans living in poverty and struggling to access basic necessities. The focus on military spending has also limited the government’s ability to invest in social services and infrastructure, further exacerbating the country’s economic challenges.