Since late last year, North Korea has boosted the number of available tours from China in an effort to stimulate the economy. Yet, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (June 28), the mostly male tourists in return receive a bit of stimulation themselves.
In days past, access to North Korea had been limited. However, the communist nation is now accessible by plane, car, train, boat, or on foot.
“Last November, a charter flight from China started in an effort to bring in foreign cash,” says a journalist specializing in North Korean affairs. “At first, it wasn’t so popular because mobile phone use is prohibited, taking photos in towns is banned, and communication with residents is restricted. Also, tourists can’t eat outside of their designated hotels. It was like being under house arrest.”
A liberalization in the means of access to the country began under the regime of Kim Jong-un, who last December took over rule of the country upon the passing of his father, Kim Jong-il. “He started to focus on bringing in more moeny,” says the aforementioned writer.
A bus tour starting in the city of Yanji, in the Chinese province of Jilin, travels to Najin and Songbong over two nights and three days and costs 9,375 yen. Also from Yanji, a tour by bus extending three nights heads to Hoeryong for 19,750 yen. Over that same period, a train trip originating in Dandong, Liaoning Province goes to Sinuiju and four other cities for 34,875 yen.
Yet there are drawbacks.
“North Korea doesn’t have any tourist attractions,” says the president of a Chinese travel agency. “The quality of the food is low, and there are no theme parks.”
The magazine says the jump in tourist figures is due to another reason entirely.
“In restaurants, customers can select a waitress of their liking,” says the Chinese travel agency president. “They can then disappear together into a back room. Of course, with the government overseeing everything it is impossible to take her off the premises. So this is a matter of ‘playing’ inside.”
The travel agency president adds that most of the customers are middle-aged Chinese males.
“These waitresses can be real lookers,” assures the president. “They rank right up there with that of the yorokobi-gumi” — or the regime’s “comfort brigade” of young entertainers.
Shukan Jitsuwa likens the trend to that of Japan’s “bubble” period, during which Japanese men engaged in similar tours through Southeast Asia.
Those days, however, appear long gone. (K.N.)
Source: “Bijoundan mo ba Chugoku no Kitachosen tsuaa,” Shukan Jitsuwa (June 28, page 197)