Exploring the Joint Security Area (JSA) Tour

By Edward Kwon


To maintain security and stability on the Korean Peninsula, the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) was established in 1953 through the Korean War Armistice Agreement. The UNCMAC carries out various tasks, including negotiating with the North Korean Army, educating about the frontline unit’s importance, controlling access to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), conducting inspections, observing and monitoring designated areas, and investigating alleged violations of the Agreement[^1^].

As part of the Armistice Agreement, both sides agreed to move their troops back 2,000 meters from the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). This buffer zone, known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), stretches 250 km in length and 4 km in width^2^.

The Joint Security Area (JSA) is a shared space within the DMZ between North and South Korea. Overseen by the UNCMAC, it encompasses buildings used for negotiation talks and several historically significant bridges^3^.

DMZ View
DMZ View (Photo credit: John F. Behrend)

What is the JSA Tour and its origin?

The JSA Tour offers a unique opportunity to visit both the DMZ and the JSA. Originally launched in March 1963 by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), it allows visitors to experience the buffer zone between two countries that are not yet at peace^4^.

Why should you go on a JSA Tour?

A JSA Tour provides a one-of-a-kind experience in the buffer zone between two countries in conflict. This area holds particular significance for those affiliated with the USFK communities, as it is maintained by members of their community and exists due to the intervention of the United Nations Armed Forces, including all branches of the United States Armed Forces^5^.

Is there any reason to worry about going on a JSA tour?

While the JSA is the most dangerous area, it is also the most peaceful in Korea. Visitors are surrounded by UNCMAC forces and must be respectful of the fact that they are entering a buffer zone between two countries at war. However, safety is ensured within this area^6^.

How long is a JSA tour?

A typical JSA Tour lasts approximately five hours. From USAG Humphreys, it takes around two and a half hours to reach the JSA. There is a stop at Osan Air Base, and lunch is served at a nearby restaurant, just ten minutes away from the JSA. In total, the JSA Tour from USAG Humphreys usually takes ten hours^7^.

Reunification Statue outside Third Tunnel
Reunification Statue outside Third Tunnel (Photo credit: John F. Behrend)

What is the dress code for a tour?

Military policy requires all visitors to maintain a neat and presentable appearance. The following clothing items are prohibited:

  • Ripped jeans
  • Flip-flop sandals
  • Clothing with profane or provocative text
  • Sports or athletic clothing (including gym shorts or track/stretch pants)
  • Sleeveless shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Excessively baggy clothing

Additionally, visitors are not permitted to wear military uniforms. Further details will be provided upon tour signup^8^.

Will North Koreans see me when I’m there?

North Koreans stationed in the Panmungak Building observe visitors to the JSA using a telescope. This is why there is a dress code and a prohibition on military uniforms. While tourists may occasionally see North Korean military personnel at the border, their presence has decreased since the start of the pandemic. North Korea also offers tours of the JSA from their side of the MDL^9^.

What is the Orientation video?

As part of the JSA Tour, visitors watch an orientation video that delves into Korean history, with a particular focus on the Korean War and events that have taken place in the JSA^10^.

DMZ View
DMZ View (Photo credit: John F. Behrend)

What is Freedom House?

Situated in Panmunjom, South Korea’s northernmost facility, Freedom House serves as a hub for inter-Korean communication and talks between the Republic of Korea National Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea^11^.

What are the buildings in the JSA?

The JSA contains seven temporary conference buildings. Four of these are administered by North Korea, while the remaining three, known as T1, T2, and T3 (with “t” standing for temporary), are under the jurisdiction of the UNC. Tourists are allowed to visit T2, the main conference room for the Military Armistice Commission, which is shared by both Koreas. However, visitors from each side are not permitted inside the building simultaneously^12^.

What is the Commemorative Tree?

The Commemorative Tree was planted during a historic summit in 2018, symbolizing cooperation between the two Korean nations^13^.

What is the Blue Bridge?

The Blue Bridge gained prominence as the site of a meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea in 2018. It also serves as a commuting route for personnel working at the NNSC, facilitating their travel to T1, T2, and T3^14^.

Freedom Bridge
Freedom Bridge (Photo credit: John F. Behrend)

What is the tunnel?

While there are four tunnels connecting North Korea and South Korea, the Third Tunnel, also known as the Third Infiltration Tunnel, is the only one open to the public as a tourist attraction. Visitors can walk along the entire length of the tunnel, which was discovered by South Korea in 1978. It is estimated that 30,000 soldiers could pass through this tunnel within an hour^15^.

Why is the JSA closed sometimes?

The DMZ and JSA may be closed due to unexpected circumstances, training, or special visits. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to temporary closures. To stay updated on closure dates and additional information, visit the official DMZ and JSA website: https://www.panmuntour.go.kr/web/comn/main/eng/main.do^16^.

What is the most interesting aspect of a JSA tour that I wouldn’t learn at a museum or from a book?

The most intriguing aspect of a JSA Tour is experiencing the sorrow and tragedy of division in Korea. Upon arrival in the JSA area, visitors quickly sense that the countries are still at war, creating a sharp contrast to the rest of the serene and calm Land of the Morning Calm. Despite being just 60 km north of the vibrant city of Seoul, the JSA Tour immerses you in the world’s smallest and quietest village, where the only sounds you’ll hear are the chirping of rare birds not found anywhere else in Korea^17^.

Another captivating part of the experience is stepping into North Korea inside building T2. However, it’s important to note that North Korean security cameras are present inside the building, carefully monitoring the conversations of visitors^18^.

Model of axe murder incident on August 18, 1976
Model of axe murder incident on August 18, 1976 (Photo credit: John F. Behrend)

For more information or any questions about a JSA Tour from Camp Humphreys, you can contact Edward Kwon:

  • Edward Kwon (Tae Yeon Kwon)
  • JSA Tour Desk Staff
  • Mobile: 010.5789.2047
  • Tel: 031.692.3088/3089
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Location: USO Camp Humphreys – Sentry Village (P-301)

General Information on the JSA Tour

  • Tour schedules: Tue, Wed, Fri, and Sat at 10 am (subject to variations)
  • Price: $95 per person
  • Duration: approximately 10 hours
  • Inclusions: Round-trip transportation, an English-speaking guide, and lunch
  • Minimum participation: 10 passengers per tour
  • Maximum participation: 40 passengers per tour
  • Departing from: Camp Humphreys / Osan Air Base / Camp Casey
  • Reservation can be made via our website: http://www.visitjsa.com

Unification Building
Unification Building (Photo credit: John F. Behrend)

[^1^]: Visit JSA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://hotel-ambassadeur.com