Hemp steam treatments popular in Pyongyang bathhouses

North Korea may be using South Korean equipment to domestically produce its own hemp

pyongyang hemp factory
Inside the Pyongyang Hemp Spinning and Weaving Factory / Image: Yonhap

A unique “hemp steam” treatment offered by a bathhouse in the Tongshin 3 neighborhood in Pyongyang’s Tongdaewon Zone has become so popular among residents that other bathhouses in the city have now also adopted the sweating cure. Daily NK sources even consider the hemp baths a new wellness trend in Pyongyang.

One bathhouse session including the popular hemp products costs between KPW 5000 and 20,000, depending on additional services, a source estimated. The sittings take place in sweat rooms shared by four to five users and commonly last 15 to 45 minutes.

According to a source from Pyongyang on Nov. 19, most customers are “patients, who couldn’t be cured in hospital or who didn’t respond well to medication,” he said. However, “there are also patrons who went to the bath house once as ‘ordinary’ guests and have become hooked.”

The wellness treatments also exist in South Korea where hemp assets and products – like flax wallpapers or hemp floor mats – are promoted as particularly “unique” on TV. The bathhouses in Pyongyang, however, reportedly offer similar amenities.

HEMP: THE NEW WONDER CURATIVE

Sources have stressed to Daily NK that the products used in the bathhouses are not made of cannabis leaves, which are notorious for causing hallucinations. Rather, they contain processed hemp from the plant’s stem, like hemp flax or fiber. Those materials are also used in the textile industry.

Despite its bad reputation, hemp actually contains a range of health-promoting effects. Hemp cloth, for example, is known for its antibacterial and anti-toxic functions as well as for emitting far-infrared radiation.

According to sources, the North Korean bathhouses attribute their hemp products with even more curative effects. However, their claim that hemp steam baths can resolve phosphorus build-ups in the human body – allegedly a main cause of disease – is not scientifically proven. The sources thus think that the bathhouses might have just been trying to acquire more patrons through questionable advertising. 

NORTH KOREA’S DOMESTICALLY-PRODUCED HEMP

It is particularly interesting to note that most of the hemp-based products used in the capital’s bathhouses come directly from the Pyongyang Hemp Spinning and Weaving Factory. The enterprise is located in the Yongje neighborhood in Pyongyang’s Songyo district. 

Though the original “trendsetter,” the bathhouse in Tongdaewon District “did not originally source its hemp products from here,” it does now, according to a source. Thus, “operations at the Pyongyang Hemp Spinning and Weaving Factory are thriving,” he said.

The Pyongyang Hemp Spinning and Weaving Factory is North Korea’s first joint venture with South Korea. It resulted from a partnership between the Saepyolchong Company, a subsidiary of the National Economic Cooperation Federation in North Korea, and South Korea’s Andong Hemp Spinning and Weaving Company.

To make the project work, North Korea provided 45,000 square meters of land and buildings, while South Korea founded the equipment and facilities. The result: a factory worth USD 30 million, which opened in October 2008.

However, the success didn’t last long. When South Korea’s newly elected president Lee Myung Bak began to pursue a more hardline policy in 2009, the inter-Korean relationship deteriorated. As South Korean technicians weren’t allowed to and from North Korea anymore, the joint aspect of the venture was forfeited.

North Korea’s efforts to maintain the factory with the help of Chinese companies weren’t really successful, either.

IS SOUTH KOREAN EQUIPMENT BEING USED?

The increasing production of hemp products at Pyongyang’s Hemp Spinning and Weaving Factory as it was reported by Daily NK sources could indicate that South Korea’s equipment are being used at the moment.

“From what I know, some of the equipment is being used,” confirmed Kim Jeong Tae to Daily NK. He is the president of Andong’s Hemp Spinning and Weaving Company as well as the director of the Pyongyang factory.

To what extent North Korea manufactures its hemp products independently – hence, without relying on any foreign technology – is currently unknown.

*Translated by Violet Kim and edited by Laura Geigenberger

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.