Where time marches backward

North Korean leader Kim Jong Ilin Pyongyang, North Korea.

The government of North Korea recently changed its time zone to lose a half-hour. The move was widely seen as yet another example of Pyongyang’s eccentricity, but perhaps the oddest thing about it was the reason given.

The change, North Korea announced, was a gesture against Japanese imperialism, which imposed Tokyo time on the Korean Peninsula a century ago. Given that Japan’s occupation of Korea ended 70 years ago, the North Koreans certainly took their time making the change.

Nevertheless, Pyongyang’s new time zone comes closer to capturing a true high noon for its inhabitants than either adjacent Japanese or Chinese time zones.

There are only 24 global time zones when measured by longitude and the length of the day, but there are now 38 official time zones in the world.

All this is because governments can choose what time they want their nations, and citizens, to follow. And North Korea is unchallenged as a dispenser of arbitrary governmental judgments.

The new time zone will put North Korea even more out of step with South Korea, which has pulled far ahead of its northern neighbor in every measure of prosperity and quality of life. So it is fitting that North Korea is falling behind on another scale, as it moves its own clock backward.