North Korea Is Not The First To Create Its Own Time Zone

The news that North Korea would be creating its own time zone (set back by half an hour, supposedly to separate itself from its former Japanese rule) is reasonably dismissed by many who see it as yet another baffling rule from the nation. But they’re not the only ones who have done so. Several nations have changed time zones for a number of reasons.

Time zones were first established in the early twentieth century. Before that there was a system of “local time” that set sunrise at 6 a.m. and sunset at 6 p.m. However, when the Greenwich Observatory was used for the zero longitude line, the time used in Greenwich became the standard to set time from.

Before communist rule in China, the country was divided into five time zones. After the takeover in 1949, all time zones were changed to Beijing time; eight hours past Greenwich Mean Time. Since China has not gotten any smaller since then, the residents at the western end have to rise two hours earlier than they normally would. (Some residents have just set their clocks two hours back on their own, but this is frowned upon.)

While most time zones are set by whole hours, several nations and territories use half hour marks: India, Afghanistan, Newfoundland, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Iran, Venezuela, and parts of Australia. Even that wasn’t enough for Nepal. Originally, the nation was in India’s time zone, but it was moved a quarter of an hour forward to mark when the sun passed over a particular mountain. (India itself uses one time zone for the whole country, like China, despite the fact it takes up at least two.) Believe it or not, there’s one other quarter hour time zone in the world: the Chatham Islands, a territory of New Zealand, does the same thing.

Spain is on the same longitude as Britain and Portugal, and should therefore be in GMT. In 1940, Francisco Franco declared that the country would now follow Germany’s time. While it was intended to be a short term war time measure, it was never changed. (The territory of the Canary Islands remains on GMT.)

Samoa no doubt tops the strange time zone changes. On December 29, 2011, it became the first and only country to switch time zones and by that cross the International Date Line. The change brought Samoa from its own time zone to the time of New Zealand and Australia. (Samoa apparently likes making confusing changes, as two years before the date line swap it changed the direction drivers went on the roads.)

So, North Korea having its own time zone is strange, no doubt, but it’s not a strangeness that’s never been done before.

[Image via Wikipedia/US Central Intelligence Agency]