North Korea

North Korean traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in North Korea?

The northern part introduces us to the customs and traditions of North Korea.


Food in daily life

White rice and beef soup was once a symbol of fine dining in North Korean rhetoric. It is uncertain whether the population continues to eat (steamed) white rice due to severe food shortages that have become apparent in recent years.

Visitors from abroad normally receive abundant food, including meat, vegetables, dairy products and fruits. However, ordinary citizens do not eat such a wide variety of foods.

In addition, the North Korean diet does not include spicy foods with chili and garlic, traditional in the Korean diet: There is no kimchi like elsewhere. Another point to note is that they don’t seem to have candy or sweets for children: sugar is scarce and is considered

as a highly luxurious ingredient. Only when one visits high-ranking officials’ shops where foreign currency can be used is there a poor variety of sugary sweets. Staple foods are rationed, while canned meat or a small amount of vegetables can be purchased, either at a store or farmers’ market.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

All foods are regulated by the state, which prevents obtaining any special food. For state-sponsored banquets, the food is plentiful, accompanied by almost endless wines and spirits.

However, for ordinary people’s ceremonies such as the 60th anniversary which is traditionally celebrated as a commemoration of longevity, this would not be the case.


Individual registration has had a significant effect on the North Korean marriage system. In Korean tradition, marriage between a man and a woman who share the same family background is not allowed.

Since all Koreans were required to keep family records since the time of the Yi dynasty, everyone can trace their family origin. If two people share the same ancestral name, they are considered brothers and sisters, and therefore subject to the incest taboo.

Since North Korea abolished family registration, marriages between people from the same ancestral clan, as long as they are not direct relatives, are legal.

A primary consideration in marriage is the compatibility of class origins. If a man comes from the family of a high-ranking party member, and a woman from a family that does not have comparable sociopolitical status, a marriage between the two would not be sanctioned by society.

If a man comes from a family that was originally repatriated from Japan in the post-war period and a woman comes from a “native” North Korean family, the marriage between the two is considered difficult, as returnees are generally viewed with mistrust and mistrust. due to his continued connection with families in Japan.

Therefore, classes tend to marry within themselves as in capitalist societies.

Upon marriage, a couple receives a house or, if they live in an urban area, an apartment. Normal couples, however, often have to wait until their residence application is approved by the authorities.

The case of a couple from high-ranking families will be different: they will receive preferential treatment in the search for housing. Newlyweds typically hold a small ceremony, inviting close friends, neighbors, and family members, take a photo if they can afford it, and register their marriage.

There is no party or party or honeymoon. Even wedding dresses are made from state-rationed fabrics, and therefore brides of a certain period look more or less alike.

Religious beliefs

What most characterizes North Korean socialism is its leadership, built on the basis of Kim Il Sung’s cult of personality. Through the state-designed education system, Kim and his family are held up as role models for men and women, young and old.

When they are in kindergarten, children can recite stories from Kim’s childhood. Moral ideological education in North Korea is organized allegorically, with Kim Il Sung and his pedigree as the protagonists.

Kim Il Sung’s name is ubiquitous in North Korea. For example, if asked how you are doing, the model answer would be “thanks to the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, I am fine”, and the North Korean economy is remarkably strong “thanks to the wise leadership of Marshal Kim Il Sung”.

The ideology that the cult of the Leader represents is called the Juche idea. Juche literally means “subject” and is often translated as self-sufficiency. In North Korea, slogans such as “Let us model the whole society according to the Juche idea” are heard daily.

North Korea’s official history says that Kim Il Sung established the Juche ideology in 1927, when he founded the Anti-Imperialist Youth League in Jilin in northeast China. The Juche idea is very different from Marxist historical materialism. Rather, it is a kind of idealism, emphasizing human belief; in this sense, it resembles more a religion than a political ideology.

Under the Juchean ideology, North Korea achieved many notable goals, including economic recovery from the ashes of the Korean War. In the name of loyal dedication to Kim Il Sung, national unity was achieved and national pride was instilled in North Korean citizens.

Religion is theoretically allowed in North Korea, and a visitor can meet a Buddhist monk or nun. But North Koreans hardly have freedom of religion. The monks and nuns that tourists know may not have any public following; in fact, they may themselves be loyal followers of the leader.

North Korea traditionally had strong centers of Christianity, and Christianity played an important role in organizing anti-Japanese resistance during the colonial period. Similarly, the Ch’ondo religion that emerged in the 19th century as an indigenous Korean religion grew stronger in the process of anti-Japanese resistance.

Indeed, many Ch’ondo leaders were included in the initial construction of the North Korean state. With the rise of the Leader, non-Juchean ideas came to be seen as heterodox and dangerous, or else bourgeois and capitalist.

Korean culture has a thousand-year-old Confucian tradition, although this heritage does not exist in North Korea today as it did in the past. Rather, its shape and direction changed due to the intervention of leader-centered socialism.

Kim Il Sung is often portrayed in a paternalistic manner, personified as a benevolent father (and sometimes father-mother, asexually or bisexually) who cares for the entire population as if he were a child or a disciple. Kim Il Sung created the idea of ​​a family state and became the head of the nation.

In fact, a popular North Korean children’s song includes this refrain: “Our father is Marshal Kim Il Sung/ Our home is the bosom of the party/ We are one big family/ We have nothing to envy in the whole world.”

Secular celebrations

National celebrations include the Founding of the People’s Army (February 8), Kim Jong Il’s Birthday (February 16), Kim Il Sung’s Birthday (April 15), May Day (May 1), the Young Pioneers Day (June 6), National Foundation Day (September 9), and Labor Day (October 10).

Some of these celebrations are held with a Soviet-style military parade, while others are commemorated with arts festivals and official gatherings in local and central government units.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The production of art and literature in North Korea is completely controlled by the state. Its ideological line, form of presentation, dissemination to the public and availability are under the administration of state authorities.

This does not mean that North Koreans suffer from a poverty of art. Rather, there is a wide variety of different art genres and fashions that come and go over time. Cinema is more developed than literature, perhaps due to Kim Jong Il’s involvement in the medium.


The literature is produced by state-paid official writers whose novels and poems tend to be pedantic, predictable, and downright boring.

For example, a popular novel Ode to Youth (first published in 1987 and continuously reprinted until 1994) is the story of a technician in a steel factory, whose relationship with his girlfriend is interwoven with other human relationships between his colleagues.

The story at the end confirms that in North Korea all relationships, even romantic ones, exist to foster loyalty to the leader. This has been the pattern of literature since the 1960s.

Typically, human relationships are portrayed simplistically, with romantically involved couples never hesitating to help each other become heroes of the revolution.

There is no complex web of psychology, personality diversity, or unexpected events that are often part of the ordinary lives of individuals. North Korean literature is full of lifeless, sterile language, which is to be expected given the limited vocabulary that the North Korean state makes available to the public.

Graphic arts

North Korea has distinct graphic arts related to a mix of traditional Korean drawing and Western watercolor techniques. Large art murals are often seen on public buildings in North Korea, and the theme is often the adoration of the leaders, typically Kim Il Sung in the center, larger than that of other people around him.

People of all ages, occupations and clothing surround him with adoration and admiration in their eyes. The commission of this type of art is carried out by the State, and in this sense, there is no private artist.

Large sculptures that patriotically represent history, such as Korean War heroes and anti-Japanese guerrillas, are also common; they are usually depicted in the Soviet style.

No individual artist is endorsed in this type of public art display. North Korea cannot miss statues and sculptures, paintings and even embroidery depicting Kim Il Sung and his family in an embellished form.

These are displayed in public spaces; In terms of art to buy privately, there are paintings and other products that use traditional Korean (or East Asian) ink or oil paint. These are most easily found in international hotel shops and are not available for ordinary citizens to purchase.

Performing arts

Under the direct intervention of Kim Jong Il, a new form of cinema has emerged in North Korea, especially since the 1980s. Sin Sang-ok and Ch’oi Un-hui – married former South Korean citizens, a director husband and an actress wife – played a major role in introducing this remake of the North Korean film.

The Sin-Ch’oi team, which was supported by Kim Jong Il, produced many realistic films. His work is based on 1930s Korean literature, heavily influenced by Russian realism and the Japanese proletarian literary movement.

Classics such as Ch’oi So-hae’s Blanket were made into films depicting family life and the misery of poverty in unprecedentedly vivid style. Also popular was the long-running series Unnamed Heroes, which depicted the romantic relationships between North Korean spies who worked undercover in South Korea after the Korean War.

Movies in North Korea are cheap entertainment for the general public, while other more specialized genres, such as circuses or song-and-dance ensembles, are reserved for foreign guests and domestic festivals.

Only selected people – either because of their revolutionary heritage or because they are recognized as worthy contributors to the revolution – are invited to enjoy this entertainment.

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