We tend to think of North Korea as a mysterious place -- sometimes quiet, other times hostile, but always closed off and opaque. Since its founding in 1948, the country has plunged into diplomatic and economic isolation, driven by founder Kim Il Sung's policy of juche, or "self-reliance." Today, images of daily life in North Korea are a rare sight, often met with fascination.
But this wasn't always the case. For a brief period in the early 20th century, after the 1910 fall of the original "Hermit Kingdom" -- the Choson dynasty -- -- and before the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, Pyongyang, then a provincial capital, was open and growing. The city served as a focal point for Western Protestant missionaries in Asia, prompting some to call it the "Jerusalem of the East." Although under unwelcome and often harsh Japanese occupation at the time, colonial rule also brought rapid changes, including industrialization and upgrades to transportation networks.
Here's a rare look inside Pyongyang at the time -- known then by its Japanese name, Heijo -- through pictures drawn from a number of collections housed at the University of Southern California's digital archives, including the Maryknoll Mission Archives. They provide a window into Pyongyang before the Kim era, and give us a glimpse of some of the forces that shaped the North Korea we know today.
Above, two men saw a wooden beam while others work in the background.
Courtesy of the Maryknoll Mission Archives