"Ordered" and "Disordered" Cemeteries in North Korea, Mapping them to be able to distinguish them

I’m mapping in North Korea and I regularly ask myself the question :

  • I’m doing the right thing by mapping “ordered cemeteries” and “disordered cemeteries” with the same “landuse=cemetery” tag?

In fact, as I explain in the OSM guide for contributions in North Korea, there are two types of cemetery and I recommend using the “landuse=cemetery” tag, but I still have my doubts. Is there a better way of mapping it, perhaps another tag “cemetery=" should be used in addition, but what to put behind that "”?

Ordered cemetery : here
NK 38-36246 125-33209

Disordered cemetery: here

Thanks for your help !

To distinguish between the two types of cemetery you described I would in fact use a cemetery=* tag and as there is no value for this tag which would fit your purpose you should feel free to create your own. Why not use the descriptions “ordered” and “disordered” for this purpose. I don’t know if there is anything like this in other countries, but it seems quite unique to me, so it could be wise to include the country code to make clear that this tag is specially used for North Korea. I could imagine something like cemetery=KP:disordered.

Btw: Great work you did with your guide for contributions in KP … I take off my hat … :+1:

Thank you for your interest in and mapping of North Korea.

First, the grave in the location you described doesn’t seem to be a typical Korean grave.
To understand this, I think we need to understand a little bit about Korean(or East Asia) graves, so I’ll explain and add a summary later.

Let’s start with the traditional Korean grave.
East Asian graves are easy to distinguish on satellite maps because they usually involve building a burial mound and tidying up the area around it.
This is why a single traditional East Asian tomb, no matter how small, has the appearance of taking up some area.(In Japan, it’s a little different than the traditional East Asian style.)
At least in Korea, it’s usually seen as desirable for couples to be buried together, so two burial mounds are formed in one place.
In other cases, a family may form a family graveyard in a similar location, although it is not a ‘grave-yard’, and even in these cases, they are never lined up because of the Korean hierarchical culture.
In the second example photo, if you look closely, you can see a band around the grave, and that’s one grave area. It also didn’t line up at all.
So even a cemetery area that looks like a ‘cemetery’ is not easy to tag with ‘landuse=cemetery’ because there are often other feature elements mixed in with it.

Traditionally, Korea doesn’t have a concept of a “graveyard” (I know East Asia is largely similar). Individual graves are usually built in good spots around rice fields or in the mountains, and sometimes clusters of graves that look like a “grave-yard” just happen to form in similar spots. (Even in these cases, it’s never the case that the graves are aligned in rows and columns, as it’s seen as a forced sequence).

In modern times, with the introduction of the Western concept of cemeteries, we have the concept of a “grave-yard,” which is distinguished by its orderly appearance (and its shape is not that of a traditional burial mound).
Even in modern times, Eastern tombs with burial mounds are rarely lined up in rows, and if they are, they are most likely Western tombs.


  • An Eastern tomb forms a territory, even if it’s very small anyway (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be represented by a node).
  • Although it is the area of a grave, it is hard to call it a graveyard. (Sometimes the graves of a family form a graveyard.)
  • Since Eastern graves are usually for couples buried side by side, two side-by-side burial mounds should also be treated as a single grave unit.
  • When there are two or more graves that are not in rows and columns, they can be considered an “area” (when the graves of a family make up a graveyard).
  • Occasionally, a single grave will occupy a fairly large area by itself, especially if it is the grave of an important person.

In the case of the tomb in your location, there is a fairly large mound in the front and a small structure in the back.
Based on the Korean tomb style described above, it seems that the front tomb is just a decoration, and the small structures behind are (western or modern style)tombstones.
When ancestral tablets of several people are collected together, they are sometimes used to create a mound with no body in the front, but only a shape. (or when the body cannot be properly recovered due to some unfortunate accident)

I also find it very confusing when mapping graves in Korea or East Asia because the concept of a grave is different from the Western concept.
For single graves, I borrow the ‘cemetery=grave’ tag, albeit in a different shape, but for family and household graves, there is some ambiguity.
I’m also confused by the fact that a group of graves is not exactly a territory. Well, of course, I’m making a rough compromise, …

Summarizing my opinion(based on the OSM tags now)

  • In the first example image, the burial mound in the foreground is very ambiguous with the current tags.(You could use the cemetery=grave tag as it exists now, but that would obscure the structure in the back that appears to be a tombstone.)
  • I’m not sure if I should compromise by only drawing the grave area in the first example image.
  • I looked at European graves (landuse=cemetery), and they only draw the grave area and not the individual graves, so I think I can do that in this case.
  • The second example image could be forced to be drawn as an “area” (landuse=cemetery), but then there would be a few graves that are far apart.
  • Conclusion: I think what you’ve mapped to OSM is the best tagging for now. Unless you develop new tags.
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Can’t confirm for obvious reasons, but the ordered one may have important people in them; e.g. the a war hero, high official, historic figure, etc. Especially the one you showed seem to have just 1 grave, and with paved entrance it doesn’t seem usual.

Ordered cemeteries are much rarer than disordered cemeteries, of course, but there are still a lot of them! Yes, there are a lot more disorered cemeteries.

As you say, but it seems logical to me that ordered cemeteries represent important people. But I don’t know to what extent these cemeteries are “exceptional”.
What’s difficult because in Europe we only have one type of cemetery (except perhaps military cemeteries, and even then they look the same) and not two, so I don’t really know.

Do you think to have two clearly different types of cemetery are specific to North Korea?

But be careful! This :
is a single large burial ground (a large grave in fact) (a little like this : File:Seolleung Jeongneung 09 (18077136584).jpg - Wikimedia Commons)

but all the other graves are after :
(a little like this : File:Gwangju - May 18th National Cemetery - graves.jpg - Wikimedia Commons)
I count 5 lines and 14 per line

I’d still like to tag these two types of cemetery differently, so I’m still looking for a solution!

I add this link because I found it quite interesting.

They built a burial mound in the front and a tombstone in the back.
Typically in East Asia, the body is placed under the burial mound, but here, symbolically, they created a false tomb.
And on the tombstone built in front of it, they didn’t write the names of the dead people, but “Tomb of the Railroaders” (meaning “railroad martyrs”).
Perhaps this is the case with our first example image.

Add a tomb that looks very similar.
Screenshot 2023-08-06 at 11-19-05 남포시 인민군렬사묘 · 북한 평안 남도 남포

Incidentally, North Korea’s mass graves, which are so extensive and sporadically scattered that it’s hard to pinpoint a specific area.(1 kilometer radius in a NW-SE direction from the marker.) - View on Google Maps

I think there’s a lot of parallel between how NK and Vietnam bury the dead. If you want to get an idea of how the Vietnamese bury the dead, replace mounds with Western-style colorful graves, and you probably get the picture. From my personal experience, there are four types of graves, and I think that there is some level of correspondence with the grave mounds in NK:

  1. Disordered, mainly used by rural people that just need a place to bury people. They are often placed on some bad piece of farmland. Because of that, these cemeteries are informal, and imo should be tagged with “landuse=cemetery” and “informal=yes”:
  2. Ordered war memorial graveyards. These ones often have some sort of an obelisk/memorial at the center and an array of graveyards next to it. I would still tag them as “landuse=cemetery”, but with a “operator=government” because these graveyards are constructed by the government for recognizing the war effort.
  3. Lone graves. Even lone graves in Vietnam are usually clustered in a small group, so I don’t think whether this situation is applicable in this case. But usually I just tag them as “landuse=cemetery” or “landuse=grave” as nodes, not areas. In the picture below, I tag them as “landuse=cemetery” because there are many graves.
  4. Really big graveyards. Often these are built in metro areas or for high-rank officials that doesn’t want to be buried in their hometowns. Pretty obvious to see in aerial imagery, and usually “landuse=cemetery” is enough.

Gallery of images: