SEOUL, South Korea — Today is the 101st anniversary of the birthday of North Korea's "Great Leader," Kim Il Sung.
For North Koreans, it's pretty much the most important holiday of the year, along with Kim Jong Il's birthday on Feb. 16. They'll get three days off.
The AP's Pyongyang Bureau is reporting that North Korea isn't so militant looking today. The streets are calm and the recent war bluster not as pronounced:
There was no sense of panic in the North Korean capital, where very few locals have access to international broadcasts and foreign newspaper headlines speculating about an imminent missile test and detailing the international diplomacy under way to try to rein Pyongyang in, including a swing through the region by US Secretary of State John Kerry to try to tamp down emotions and coordinate Washington's response with Beijing, North Korea's most important ally.
At Koryo Tours, the tour manager Hannah Barraclough is uploading photos via Instagram directly from Pyongyang. They show all sorts of mass dance festivities. Check them out!
Some background: Kim Il Sung is the grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong Un, and the former guerrilla leader who many North Koreans worship as a near-deity for fighting Japanese colonial rule in the 1930s and becoming the first ruler of the North Korean nation. (The official government history is known to romanticize the team of ragtag mountain fighters, who probably played a modest role in battling the Japanese military during World War II.)
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On both anniversaries, North Koreans decorate the outside of their homes with one of two flower species that are, yes, named after their leaders: Kimilsungia on Kim Il Sung's birthday, and Kimjongilia on — you guessed it — Kim Jong Il's birthday.
In a strange gesture, an Indonesian and Japanese botanist bred each respective plant, and then presented them as gifts to the then-supreme leader of the nation.
What else goes on in the reclusive state? Well, the North Korean regime is incredibly superstitious. As with many famous birthdays and holidays, the government plays with numerology in its endeavors.
For instance, on the Great Leader's 60th birthday in 1972, the government erected the massive statue of Kim Il Sung in the capital. In Confucian tradition — which comes from China but is a cultural force in North Korea — it marked the end of a 60-year cycle.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency isn't reporting on any groundbreaking statues or buildings timed with this year's anniversary, to my knowledge. We'll know more when expatriates and tourists in Pyongyang return home.