New year calendars recently published in North Korea make no mention of leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday, six years after he rose to power.
The Supreme Leader’s birthday – widely believed to be 8 January – will be marked as a regular working Monday in the Communist country, according to 2018 calendars shown on the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) channel in Japan.
The birthday of Mr Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, is celebrated on 16 February every year as the Day of the Shining Star; while his grandfather Kim Il-sung’s birthday on 15 April is marked as the Day of the Sun.
Both of these national holidays were established while the Kim ancestors were still alive, but it is unknown why North Korea has still not publicly confirmed Kim Jong-un’s birthday or marked the day as a public holiday.
The nearest North Korea has come to acknowledging his birthday was in 2014, when visiting basketball player Dennis Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to him after an exhibition match in Pyongyang.
While viewers outside of North Korea were able to see video of Rodman’s performance, domestic audiences were merely told that the former NBA player had “sung him a special song”.
From military to marketing
The 2018 calendars obtained by TBS are available at hotels and bookstores in North Korea as well as in the few North Korean restaurants remaining in foreign countries. They show goods manufactured in the country, including liquor, ginseng and shoes.
North Korean calendars have previously heavily featured the military or the Kim family.
But Seoul-based Daily NK notes that this year’s calendar is more geared toward promoting North Korean consumer goods, as well as landscapes and cooking.
Daily NK says that this suggests that sales of earlier “propaganda calendars” were falling.
One particular product in this year’s calendar has caused bemusement on Japanese television: a “health watch”, complete with “natural calcite polarising prisms”.
The product, pictured on the September page, is reportedly “designed to improve blood circulation and strengthen the the whole body’s immune system”.
It purports to do this by “using sunlight that passes through the hole on the right side of its face”.
Perhaps ironically, the hole is exactly where the calendar function might be on an analogue watch.
Crazy little “Rocket Man”
Dennis Rodman sings Happy Birthday to Kim Jong Un. This is painful, watch at your discretion.
Reporting by Alistair Coleman