North Korea Mapping Guide

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North Korea Mapping Guide - Banner 04.png

The North Korea Mapping Guide provides an inventory of tags used to map objects in North Korea. It is intended for all contributors who wish to map, and who do not know how to analyse satellite imagery specifically in this country. Both novices and experienced contributors may have difficulty describing objects. This guide prescribes the tags to use. It is a tool for finding the right tag to use.

This inventory is structured in several sections.

  • The first section, "Foreword and Tips", lists a set of practices and tips for coordinating contributors.
  • The "Transport" section lists the routes according to their classification. It indicates the tags to use for railway infrastructure.
  • The next section, "Zone", lists tags to describe land use, and energy generation and transmission infrastructure.
  • The "Building" section lists tags for buildings, buildings with a political or social function, and monuments. The '3D Building' section lists the current tags for 3D description in the country.
  • The penultimate section, "Notes and References", contains explanatory notes and links to the documents that were used to write this guide.
  • The last section, "Appendices", gathers articles on the analysis of satellite imagery of the country, and points to the OSM community spaces.

Foreword and tips

Outdoor mapping in North Korea is difficult because accessing the terrain is difficult[1], micromapping is even more so. There are no local contributors, as there is no internet access. Let's use armchair mapping. We are dependent on satellite imagery and their qualities for mapping the country.

  • Align the imagery with the elements already drawn, but don't let the stories about the mismatch stop you.

Very often there is a mismatch between the imagery and the existing paths and points. This is the consequence of a lack of an accessible geodetic benchmark that would allow an alignment.

  • Do not offset points already created on an image as each other image would cascade an offset.
  • Choose the background map Maxar.

The Bing images have a good resolution for North Korea but the images are dull and without much colour. In contrast, Maxar images are less accurate but more colourful and more pleasant to use. The Maxar Premium images are more accurate than the Standard ones, and should be preferred.


Road (highway)

Openstreetmap logo.svg For well-mapped roads, see Pyongyang city.
Wikipedia-W-bold-in-square.svg Wikipedia article Roads in North Korea

Roads are more difficult to map than in other countries, as we don't have a precise map of their layout and classification.

If you're not sure which tag to use to describe the road, don't worry - the route is the most important thing! If someone thinks you've used the wrong tag on a route, they'll change it. It's much quicker for them to change the tag than to re-trace the whole route.

This road classification is taken from the page for African countries. It is based on the Highway_Tag_Africa wiki page and on my experience in trying to classify the roads in this country.

JOSM iD editor Description Rendering Photo
highway=motorway Motorway A restricted access major divided highway, normally with 2 or more running lanes plus emergency hard shoulder. Equivalent to the Freeway, Autobahn, etc. Rendering-highway motorway carto.png
20190825 Autostrada A4 w Krakowie 0957 5675 DxO.jpg
highway=trunk Trunk Road The most important roads in a country's system that aren't motorways. (Need not necessarily be a divided highway.)

Note that such roads can be unpaved ([1][2][3] or were unpaved until recently [4])

Note that communities in some countries such as Morocco decided to define it by relying on physical characteristics and trunk roads there are not forming complete network.

Rendering-highway trunk carto.png
Dálnice z Pchjongjangu do Kesongu - panoramio.jpg
highway=primary Primary Road Major transportation routes between and into major cities within a country.

Passable by vehicles with 4 or more wheels, engineered alignment. Motorcycles, bicycles, or foot traffic may be restricted.

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 5 to 20 meter; often paved.

Rendering-highway primary carto.png
Ea highway primary.JPG
highway=secondary Secondary Road Major transportation routes connecting cities and large towns.  Arterial function in urban areas.

Passable by vehicles with 4 or more wheels, motorcycles, bicycles, or foot and animal traffic.

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 3 to 7 meters; may be paved.

Rendering-highway secondary carto.png Ea highway secondary.JPG
highway=tertiary Tertiary Road Major transportation routes connecting towns and larger villages.  Collector function in urban areas.

Passable by vehicles with 4 or more wheels, motorcycles, bicycles, or foot and animal traffic.

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 3 to 7 meters; may be paved.

Rendering-highway tertiary carto.png South of Kalangba en route to Outamba-Kilimi Park.JPG
highway=unclassified Minor/Unclassified Road Minor collector roads that allow travel and commerce from paths and residential roads to and between settlements. While generally not residential, there can be houses along the road.

May be passable by vehicles with 4 or more wheels, motorcycles, bicycles, or foot traffic.

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 3 to 7 meters; may be paved.

Rendering-highway unclassified.png Korean countryside (16263208886).jpg
highway=residential Residential Road In urban areas or rural villages, roads which serve as an access to housing, without function of connecting settlements. Often lined with housing.

May be passable by vehicles with 4 or more wheels, motorcycles, bicycles, or foot traffic.

Note: this has been edited from the original which said "This tag is used only in urban areas and only on roads which serve no other purpose than residential. " as the East African tagging guide continues to say.

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 3 to 7 meters; may be paved.

Rendering-highway residential.png 朝鲜村庄 A village of DPRK - panoramio.jpg
highway=service Service Road Mainly Private Driveways or access roads to homes or businesses for a few hundred meters maximum, does not have a through connecting function.

Passable by vehicles with 4 or more wheels, motorcycles, bicycles, or foot traffic.

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 3 to 7 meters; may be paved.

Rendering-highway service.png
highway=track Unmaintained Track Road Access route from dwellings to agricultural and forestry areas. Roads within National Parks and Game Reserves may be tagged as tracks. No connection function between settlements.

May be passable by vehicles with 4 wheels, motorcycles, bicycles, or foot traffic.

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 3 to 7 meters; may be paved.

Rendering-highway track.png EA highway track.jpg
highway=path Path Travel route between dwellings, settlements, or water sources, and for livestock movement. May be the primary access route for isolated settlements. Connection way by foot within an urban area.

Not passable for vehicles with 4 wheels. Steep grades, narrow width, irregular alignment, obstacles, boulders, stream crossings, and seasonal use.

Note: A metal roof arrives by vehicle therefore roads to settlements with metal roofs are typically unclassified or residential (not path)

Indicative info only - can vary. Width: 1 to 3 meters; not paved.

Rendering-highway path.png Fahey DSCF2204 (6074299071).jpg

Most of the country's population travels on foot or by bicycle. Only 800km out of 787000km are paved[2], so it's more useful to indicate when the road is paved (surface=paved) than when it's unpaved (surface=unpaved).

Train (railway)

OOjs UI icon reference.svg Wiki page Railway stations

North Korea's railway infrastructure is similar to those of other countries in the world:


Landcover (natural)

Landcover represents the vegetation or soil composition visible on satellite images, with no connection to their use. In English, "land" means land or terrain, "cover" means cover.

The most common landcover tags in this area are:

Landcover classification

Tag (key, value) Name Description Satellite imagery
natural=wood Wood Area covered with trees (a "forest" or "wood").

This area is not maintained by human intervention, unlike landuse=forest.

Wood 38.74437 125.53981 - North Korea.png
natural=water Water Any body of water, whether natural, such as a lake or pond, or artificial, such as a moat or canal.

You can specify the type of water body with water=*, for example, water=pond.

Water 38.72010 125.59327 - North Korea.png
natural=scrub Scrub Uncultivated land covered with shrubs, bushes or stunted trees.
Scrub 38.74029 125.52082 - North Korea.png
natural=grassland Prairie Areas where vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous (non-woody) plants, excluding cultivated areas and wetlands.
Car grassland.png
natural=wetland Wetlands Natural area subject to flooding or waterlogged soil.

It can be specified with wetland=*.

Wetland 38.80627 125.46803 - North Korea.png
natural=bare_rock Rock An area with little or no vegetation, so that the bedrock becomes visible.
Car rocks.png

Landuse (landuse)

The landuse represents the specific use of land for human activities. In English, "land" means "land" or "terrain", "use" means "use", "employment".

The most common landuse tags in this area are as follows:

Landuse classification

Tag (key, value) Type Description Satellite imagery
landuse=farmland Farmland An area of farmland used for tillage (mainly rice, corn, wheat and potatoes[3]).
Farmland 38.73018 125.54292 - North Korea.png
landuse=residential Residential area An area of land devoted to residential buildings, or containing mainly residential buildings such as houses or apartment buildings.

This tag is mainly used for large areas and not for parcel granularity.

Residential 38.73569 125.53380 - North Korea.png
landuse=forest Forest A wooded area, maintained or used by humans.
Fort Nelson Forestry.JPG
landuse=grass Grass An area of low, regularly mown grass, e.g. around a monument, in a park, on the edge of a road, in the middle of a dual carriageway.
Grass 39.01464 125.65712 - North Korea.png

School (school)

Farmyard (farmyard)

Mine (quarry)

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Article on an example, Musan Silver Mine - AccessDPRK


Electricity (power)

Electricity networks are composed of these elements:

Poles, pylons and power lines are complicated to locate. You have to help yourself to the long, thin shadows they leave on the ground to identify them. The spacing between each tower or pole in a network is regular, so it is possible to estimate where a pole or tower should be located and to search in that area. Electrical substations are often surrounded by poles or towers, and are composed of small dark elements close together with short shadows.

Pylon and tower (pole, tower)
Electrical substation (substation)

Water (water, waterway)

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Article on an example, Tanchon hydroelectric project and continuation, Manpo-Changchuan dam construction - AccessDPRK

There are different types of dams on rivers:

  • Dam node.svg way Dam, to be described with tag waterway=dam; this is the most common structure to dam a stream, and form a retention lake
  • Weir node.svg way Weir or small dam, to be described with the tag waterway=weir; it is an obstacle smaller than waterway=dam that allows water to spill over it

There are different types of waterways:

Locating the route of rivers is the most important, as for routes. The classification of waterways is to be assessed on a case by case basis. The finest waterways are tagged with waterway=ditch.

If you have identified a waterway, follow its course until it crosses a road. If it is a waterway, it should have a bridge or ford. If not, it is a road. Look to see if it is connected to a larger water system.

The retention lake created by a dam is to be described with the two tags natural=water and water=reservoir.

  • area Pumping station, to be described with the tag man_made=pumping_station; it is a building used for drainage or irrigation. It is in the immediate vicinity of a watercourse and is often close to an agricultural area, connected by ditches/channels.
Barrage (dam, weir)
  • Dam node.svg way Dam, to be described with tag waterway=dam; this is the most common structure to dam a stream, and form a retention lake
  • Weir node.svg way Threshold or small dam, to be described with tag waterway=weir; it is a barrier smaller than waterway=dam that allows water to spill over it
Pumping station (pumping_station)
  • closed way Pumping station, to be described with the tag man_made=pumping_station; it is a building used for drainage or irrigation. It is in the immediate vicinity of a watercourse and is often close to an agricultural area, connected by ditches (ditch) and channels (canal).
Covered water tank (reservoir_covered)

There are covered reservoirs for the water supply system. They are large circular tanks 20-30 metres in diameter and are located close to residential buildings in urban areas.

Cemetry (cemetery)

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Detailed theme article - AccessDPRK

At the end of the Korean traditional funeral rite, a mound of earth and grass is erected over the graves[4], making it possible to recognize its graves from satellite imagery.

There are two types of cemeteries, described with the same landuse=cemetery tag:

  • Landuse-cemetery.png area Ordered cemeteries, consisting of clearly demarcated mounds (image 1, 2 and 3).
  • Landuse-cemetery.png area Disordered cemeteries, created during the period of the "the arduous march" (famine from the years 1994 to 1998), more irregular and without clear demarcation on large and sometimes hilly areas, which look like bomb hits from satellite imagery (image 3 to 6)[5].

Public market (marketplace)

Public markets in North Korea have a structure recognisable from satellite imagery.

They are bounded by walls, in principle. They are made up of stalls, which are rectangular structures that are very close to each other. These stalls are smaller in width than a house by a greater or lesser length, the stalls are often arranged in an orderly fashion sometimes along an axis that runs through the market[6]. Markets are located in cities, from satellite views the roof is grey or white (the classic colour of the country's buildings) or very rarely red or blue[7].

Sports field (pitch, sport)

Sports pitches are concentrated in large urban areas. They can be identified by the markings on the ground. The most common sports pitches are: basketball, football, volleyball, badminton. The colour of the field does not follow any rule, they can be directly traced on the asphalt or be blue, red, green, etc.

Traffic park (traffic_park)

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Detailed Topic Article - UPI, North Korea Travel, and Access DPRK

Traffic parks are areas for children to learn road safety rules.

These areas are composed of:

  • asphalt roads, to be described with the tag highway=cycleway and access=private
  • L-shaped buildings with a rounded inner corner
    • Traffic park 39.01865 125.65724.png
      (building=yes), located within the park enclosure, in the centre of the circuit.
    • Traffic park 38.98111 125.71891.png
      (building=yes), located in one corner of the park enclosure.

Industry (industrial, man_made)

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Article on an example, Kim Chaek steel complex - 38 North (Openstreetmap logo.svg)

Industrial areas use many tags with the keys industrial=*, power=* and man_made=*.

The most frequent and recognizable values in this country are:

Storage tank (storage_tank)

A storage tank is a container for compressed liquids or gases. It can be identified by its circular shape. Its roof is white or sometimes grey. The tanks are grouped together.


For a complete list of what can be mapped in a military area see military=*.

Tank Trap (tank_trap)

Tank traps are stone pillars along roads in the vicinity of the DMZ in the south of the country. These pillars are defence systems that are knocked down on the road to prevent the advance of tanks.

These pillars are placed at strategic locations, such as before or after a bridge, in a valley, along a highway.


Building in city centre

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Detailed article on the topic - AccessDPRK

Towns and villages, very often concentrate the following three elements in their town centre: a town hall, a tower of immortality and a building for cultural activities. The "tower of immortality"[8] is a kind of obelisk. This tower is sometimes accompanied by a mural[9], statues are rarer and are mainly found in Pyongyang and in the centre of major cities as well as medium-sized towns.

From satellite imagery, immortality towers, murals and statues leave a shadow on the ground. This shadow varies in size; immortality towers leave a long, straight shadow, statues leave a short, imprecise shadow, murals leave a short, wide shadow.

Small towns and villages use one building for all 'cultural' activities, it acts as an ideological study hall and theatre. Large cities have different buildings for theatres and study rooms.

The buildings in the town centre can be described as follows:

And more rarely :

Points of interest

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Detailed article on the topic, historical places, giant slogans - AccessDPRK

North Korea is dotted with many monuments to the glory of the regime and its leaders, such as the immortality tower, murals, statues etc.

Photo view from the ground of a tower of immortality of a mural as well as an agricultural area and an access road, Tongbong Cooperative Farm.

Each of these elements is mapped with a node.

Tower of Immortality (memorial)

Statue (statue, artwork)

Giant slogan (sign)

Pagoda (memorial)

Stele (memorial)

The memorials are located close to other monuments in the city centres of major cities. The steles are difficult to recognize with satellite imagery of average quality.

Petrol station (fuel)

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Detailed topic article – Beyond Parallel and on AccessDPRK

Fuel stations are characterised by a flat roof without walls supported by several poles. They are often located next to or in large urban areas, along major roads with quick access to the road.

Petrol stations are recognisable from satellite imagery taken at the end of the day. They show a long shadow that hints at the wall-less structure resting on the poles.

Use the late day shots to confirm that this is a petrol station.

Communication tower (tower, communication)

OOjs UI icon newWindow-ltr.svg Detailed topic article - AccessDPRK

A communications tower[12], is a small building with an antenna, recognizable by a long shadow cast. It is located on the top of the plains occupied by cities, or on reliefs.

3D Building

OOjs UI icon reference.svg Page wiki 3D Buildings

Buildings in North Korea in the countryside have a rectangular shape, while in the city they have a more complex shape to map. One way to see the result is to access the link demoF4map for example.

Height and floor

Below is an excerpt from Simple 3D Buildings, which condenses the most common building and roof types in North Korea.

Schematic example of using level and height tags
Key Comment
height=* The distance from the ground to the top of the roof, excluding antennas, wind vanes and other roof-mounted equipment.
building:levels=* Number of floors of the building above ground level (without the roof level), allows you to texture the building in a simple way.

If you are adding new buildings, try to give a height value with height=*. Try to use building:levels=* only in addition to the height=* tag!


You can describe the roof of a building with different tags, the most common ones in North Korea are the following:

Image Roof Flat.png Roof Gabled.png Roof Hipped.png Roof Round.png Roof Hip and Gable.png
roof:shape flat gabled hipped round hipped-and-gabled
Meaning flat gabled hipped round hipped-and-gabled

Topographical names

Wikipedia-W-bold-in-square.svg Wikipedia article Administrative divisions of North Korea
Korean/Japanese/English glossary of place names from the 1946 map of Pyongyang by the US Army Map Service

It is possible to add the names of towns in North Korea thanks to GeoNames which offers a georeferencing service ( that is supplied by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) for North Korea, but this data is sometimes out of date with place names pre-dating 1945, discussion on a changeset on the subject.

Other topographic maps are available, but under copyright:

OOjs UI icon alert.svg It is forbidden to copy other maps, the links below should only be used to find out if the NGA data is correct or not.

Notes and references

  1. It is conceivable to go into the field on a language or tourist trip but the area is rather limited to Pyongyang in principle.
  4. In English, cemetry or mound or burial mound
  5. During the famine of the 1990s, there were too many deaths at the same time, this forced North Koreans to find new places to bury their dead. The hills surrounding cities and villages served this function (in English grave mound); More details on the relationship of Koreans to their dead on this article: A very North Korean way to die - NK News
  6. Researcher Jenny Town describes it as "long, narrow, blue-roofed, single-story buildings" (Jenny Town, 2020, The Uses and Challenges of Satellite Imagery in Researching North Korea')
  7. Public markets were created after the famine of the 1990s by a formal integration of some illegal markets into the country's legal economic system. Growth and Geography of Markets in North Korea: New Evidence from Satellite Imagery, Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, October 2015, Read online (abstract)
  8. In English, Immortality Tower, or sometimes Tower of Eternal Life or Tower of Immortality'
  9. 9.0 9.1 In English, mural or murals
  10. In English City People's Commitees or town hall, (시인민위원회)
  11. Juche Study Hall (주체연구실) or Palace of culture (문화궁전). Jacob Bogle defines it as "Every town has at least one 'Juche Study Hall', they go by a number of different names including, palace of culture (문화궁전) and Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism study hall (김일성-김정일 주의연구실). These basically play the equivalent role of churches in Europe and the Americas in centuries past. Centrally located, this is where people are required to go multiple times a month (at least) to be indoctrinated in the latest Party orders, to learn about the exploits of the leadership, and to hold "self-criticism" sessions." These are community places, for public gatherings and events etc. This existed in China, the USSR and socialist countries more generally
  12. In English, communications tower


Related articles


External resources


Academic articles

Press articles

Wikipedia articles