There are many reasons why one might visit North Korea, but in our mind, one of the priorities when visiting has to be to learn more about the fascinating and truly unique North Korean culture. We certainly believe that our tours are more about cultural exchange than simple tourism.
Now just to clarify, we are talking about North Korean culture and customs, rather than the customs of North Korea – AKA, the guys checking your bags when you come into the country. Fo those customs check this link.
North Korean Education System
he North Korean education system wholly embraces the socialist model of providing free education for all. There is a year of preschool and eleven years of compulsory (and free) education in the country. Following graduation from school, university tutelage is supplemented by vocational colleges, work experience programs and night school. All of this is provided by the state.
For those who do not either go to university or do vocational educations programs, there is a 7 year period of military constriction into the Korean People’s Army. The KPA, unlike the military of other countries, is much more ingrained into everyday life and performs a number of functions not done in other countries.
On a good number of our tours, it’s possible to visit North Korean schools and universities; it’s even possible to teach a short class in both Pyongyang and Rason, as well as study Korean for a month in Pyongyang.
As with any socialist country, there is a particular emphasis on science. North Korea has been involved in a number of scientific breakthroughs – and we’re not talking on the nuclear front. Whilst it might be somewhat controversial, the North Korean space program is something that they are extremely proud of.
If you are particularly interested in science in North Korea, we recommend visiting the 3 Revolutions Exhibition.
Literature and art in North Korea
Both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were prolific writers, and both their personal views and the Juche ideology have had a significant impact on North Korean literature.
Artistically, North Korea is world-renowned for its monuments. Their style of art has found its way all over the world, particularly to many African countries.
North Korean Mass Games
It is, of course, impossible to talk about art in North Korea without mentioning the Mass Games. The world’s largest mass gymnastics performance is undoubtedly one of the most impressive spectacles on earth and is currently represented by the Glorious Fatherland theme.
Generally considered one of the greatest shows on earth, we are looking forward to a full 2021 schedule for the Mass Games. For a more detailed analysis of the history please click here.
North Korean Cinema
Another subject very dear to not only our hearts but indeed the hearts of Koreans. General Kim Jong-Il was a notoriously aside maker of films, and his book “On the Art of Cinema” is a must-read.
A number of North Korean films have been critically acclaimed, including The Flower Girl and our personal favourite at Young Pioneer Tours, Pulgasari.
When you visit North Korea, it is possible to see the Pyongyang Film Studio, and if you are really really lucky to even score work as an extra in a North Korean movie, but alas, this is not something we can arrange, nor promise.
Sports in North Korea
Like many socialist countries, North Korea punches way above its weight when it comes to competitive sports. They have won a number of medals in weightlifting and football/soccer for both men and women.
North Korea first entered the Olympics in 1972 and has won medals at every game they have participated in, although that excludes a number that were boycotted for various reasons.
Football in North Korea is another great passion for us at Young Pioneer Tours, and we regularly run tours to see matches. The North Korean men’s football team famously beat Italy in the 1966 World Cup, where they were eventually knocked out 5-3 by Portugal.
In 2010 the DPRK again reached the world cup finals, which were much less eventful, with the highlight being losing 2-1 to Brazil in their opening match. I was lucky enough to watch all three of the North Korean matches in Pyongyang.
Club Football in North Korea is also thriving with DPRK nationals having played in Seria A of Italy, and April 25th the most successful club in the country becoming the first North Korean team to reach a regional final in 2019. Sadly they lost the match, but it was still major first for the country.
When it comes to women football, the country is a veritable powerhouse and is consistently ranked as one of the best sides in the world.
Basketball is also an extremely popular sport in the country, with Chairman Kim Jong Un being a particular fan. Dennis Rodman, of course, has famously visited the country on a number of occasions and is considered a friend of the Marshal. North also famously had the world’s tallest basketball player who you can read about here.
Ice-Hockey is another major sport in the country, and in 2018, the women team famously competed as a united Korea team under the unification flag.
North Korean Cuisine
Eating and drinking are integral parts of the customs of North Korea. North Korean cuisine shares many similarities with that of the south but is also very unique. You can read about North Korean cuisine here as well as the top ten dishes to try here.
Then it comes to eating and drinking in North Korea, what makes it so unique is the traditions that go with it, for example, who pours what drink and when, and even how you address people. In comparison to the south, North Korea is much more polite and traditional, and this manifests itself most at mealtimes in the country.
Of course, it is impossible to talk about North Korean cuisine without talking about kimchi and soju. Now whilst both of these are also cultural elements in the south, it is our humble opinion that North Korean kimchi and North Korean soju are much better than those found in the south.
The (North) Korean language
The North Koreans are very proud of both their heritage and their language. The Pyongyang dialect, whilst sharing a lot of similarities with its Southern counterpart, features its fair share of idiosyncrasies.
So, whilst the languages are by, and large, mutually intelligible North Korean has far fewer loanwords than in South Korea, with North Korean generally much more formal and polite than the casualness found in the south. You can read more about the differences in the Korean language here.
And for those super interested in learning the North Korean dialect in the correct environment, we offer a one-month emersion course with our North Korean Study Tour. Here you not only learn the North Korean language but can even tick off having “lived in North Korea.” There truly is no better way to understand North Korean culture than by actually living inside the country.
We could, of course, go on much further about the customs and culture of North Korea, for it could surely be a book in its own right, but for now, we will leave you with this!
If you’d like to sample the culture and customs of North Korean, then join the experts in tourism to North Korea, Young Pioneer Tours, on one of our many trips throughout the year.