Visiting Korea’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)


My visit to Korea’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

There has been a lot of news about North and South Korea these days.

When I hear about Korea, my experiences living in Seoul come to mind. Before moving to Japan, I worked in the Asan Institute of Public Policy, one of the top public policy think tanks in Seoul, South Korea. Although it is an independent think tank and non-governmental organization, I would often work closely with government officials and politicians. In South Korea’s policy world, the topic of North Korea was raised almost every day, with constant updates on the latest missile tests and other potential threats. For my work as a policy analyst and research associate, I would sometimes visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a strip of land across the Korean Peninsula that effectively serves as a buffer zone between the North and South.


The Korean War between North Korea, aided by China, and South Korea, aided by the UN as principal participant, started in 1950 and continued for 3 years. At least 2.5 million people and up to 3.9 million people are estimated to have lost their lives. Since the war, Korea has been divided into two hostile states separated by the 38th parallel.

Did you know?

Although the fighting ceased in July 1953 with the beginning of planning for the signing of an armistice, negotiations in 1954 never produced an agreement. Technically, North and South Korea are STILL AT WAR.



My visit to the DMZ was an eye-opening experience. The approximately 2km area from the border between North and South Korea has been designated as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and both North Korea and South Korea have military bases behind their respective military demarcation lines. From the DMZ, South Korea’s capital Seoul is very close (it only takes a 2-hour bus ride!). It blew my mind to learn that the capital is so close to the border, and can be easily targeted with a direct missile attack from the North at any time.

The human ability to adapt to any sort of environment is simply amazing. How stressful it must be to live with the anxiety that Seoul could be attacked any day for over 60 years!

When I first arrived to the DMZ, I was quite anxious because there were strict dress code rules, photography was restricted (we were only allowed to take photos at designated areas, in designated directions) and there were many armed soldiers. Moreover, we were warned that there is the possibility we would be spied on as tourists, so the security tension was quite high. Nonetheless, being in such an unusual, almost post-apocalyptic place was a stimulating life experience.

DMZとは、英語で「De-Militarized Zone」の略で非武装地帯の意味だそうです。国境から約2キロ後退したエリアを軍事境界線というらしく、北朝鮮も韓国もその軍事境界線より後ろに、軍事基地を構えているようです。この軍事境界線から韓国の首都ソウルは非常に近いです(バズで2時間ぐらいかかります)。近すぎて、怖いです!まさか韓国の首都で、人々は60年以上毎日こんな不安を抱えているとは、まったく想像できませんでした。初めて行った時は、写真撮影は非常に制限されていましたし、軍人もたくさんいましたから、超緊張感がありました。それに、観光客を装ってスパイ活動をしている可能性があるとのことですので、セキュリティのテンションが非常に高いです。でも、珍しい場所でいろいろなことを考えさせられました。

The above picture was taken at Panmunjeom (Joint Security Area, 판문점).

According to the guide,
“Panmunjom (the Joint Security Area) is located in the middle part of the Korean Peninsula and is on the military demarcation line for the Korean War ceasefire. A ceasefire agreement between the North Korean People’s Army and the South Korean UN Army was signed in 1953. Since October of the same year, the ‘Neutral State Surveillance Commission’ and ‘Military Ceasefire Commission’ have been set up to monitor compliance with the ceasefire agreement, and has come to symbolize the division of North and South Korea for more than 60 years.” It was kind of a strange feeling to recognize that the border to North Korea was literally right in front of me!


Panmunjom (JSA) is often also referred to as the Truce Village as it aims to, one day, be the area facilitating the reunion between North and South Korea. Visiting the JSA was the highlight of my visit. You can actually feel the tension when you enter the blue barracks where North and South Korean soldiers are in the same space, and actually get up close to North Korean soldiers!

In Panmunjom, I took a picture with a North Korean soldier. When I first saw North Korean soldiers stationed around the JSA, I had thought they were wax model figurines because they were standing so still! I was surprised when I saw one moving for the first time.


With binoculars, you can see the North Korean flag flying above Kijong-dong (“Peace Village”), a North Korean village just beyond the border also known as the “Propaganda Village.”

Whenever there is an incident with North Korea such as a missile launch,
the DMZ is prohibited for visitors. Ultimately, I am grateful for the time I
lived in Seoul, as I had the valuable opportunity to learn a lot about South Korean
culture, history and politics.




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About Rachel

Rachel Leng is COO and Co-Founder of SeiRogai, Inc., a Tokyo-based business consultancy & media production company. Previously, she was Leader of Business Development on the Investment Management team at a Japanese private equity fund, as well as Policy Analyst at a top think tank in Seoul, South Korea.

As an East Asia specialist and former Miss Singapore titleholder, Rachel is passionate about the potential of media to educate and raise awareness about history, culture, art, business, and societal issues to enhance mutual understanding.

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