North Koreans across the country celebrated the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, observed by both Koreas on August 15, by spending time with their families cooling off from the summer heat, briefly relieved of their state duties and labor.
“During most national holidays, people can’t enjoy themselves because of the related political events, but Liberation Day is different,” a Daily NK source from South Pyongan Province said in a telephone conversation. “People see this day less as a day of liberation for the country and more [as a celebration] for themselves.”
This, she added, is at odds with state propaganda, which promotes the holiday as the day the nation attained liberation thanks to Suryong Kim Il Sung. However, as more outside information flows over the border, the people of North Korea are increasingly aware that the United States and the Soviet Union liberated Korea from Imperial Japanese colonial rule.
“This year, people were especially looking forward to this day because they haven’t had their Sundays guaranteed as off-days due to the ‘200-Day Battle,’” added a source in North Hamgyong Province. “The night before August 15 was really festive; everyone was so excited.”
Bicycles and cars packed the roadways the following day, transporting families to the nation’s numerous rivers and beaches. Some state factories pooled together money from workers to go on outdoor picnic excursions. Elderly relatives, who find it hard to travel long distances, gathered in empty lots and nearby parks in the neighborhood to sing and dance to music.
In the past, the amount and type of state rations available for any given national holiday dictated the mood of the day, but this changed markedly with the rise of marketization and the population’s decreased dependency on the state. Nowadays people save up money ahead of the event to purchase sticky rice, meat, and fruit, starting the holiday morning off in a celebratory fashion with savory dishes such as bulgogi (grilled marinated meat) and drinking alcohol.
“Everyone was excited about making the most of the holiday. The air buzzed with anticipation from the early morning hours, filled with the sounds of rice cakes being pounded and the scent of food wafting up from sizzling pans,” he concluded.