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One Nation Map A common data platform

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Hiroshi Murakami, Geospatial Information Authority of Japan

In conversation with Hiroshi Murakami from Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, Geospatial World finds out his vision on why Geodetic Reference Frame Resolution is essential for developing nations

What kind of activities is Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) involved in? How do these activities affect and make a difference in the Japanese economy?

Through GSI, we have been setting up a geodetic framework in Japan and are maintaining it in order to facilitate people to utilise latitude longitude in a standard way. We do provide some basic information to the government — in the past we would do it through the maps, now we take the digital path and disseminate the information, through web. These are some of the main functions of our organisation. We also extend our support to the government in disaster response.

Japan is susceptible to disasters, so is there a holistic approach towards handling and predicting disasters that affect Japan quite often?

Under the basic act on disaster control measures, GSI provides the necessary help and guidance needed by the government. We provide maps, models for earthquakes and also do the aerial photography as soon as possible, to understand the nature of the disaster and study the affected areas and consequences as well. We collaborate with private companies for surveying the disaster struck area. Our priority, however, is to provide data to the government and put everything on web. We ensure that the information reaches as quickly as possible so that officials can start their work before we put the information on web. There are times when there’s an earthquake in a place, like Tokyo, and people can’t get in touch with their friends and relatives. People are able to locate the houses of their loved ones through the pictures we put up on the web and evaluate the damage, if any.

With the kind of map data that GSI provides, can you share the details about the scale that GSI provides? Is GSI looking at providing value-added services and products to the public as well?

We provide the scale of 1:25,000 and that’s called the national base map. We have been working on it for a long time now. Recently, we completed the map using the satellite imagery and have also incorporated very detailed data for the urban areas. We also carry out thematic mapping. We think it’s really important to have geomorphological information because Japan faces landslides quite often. Also, elevation is crucial information, so we use laser to acquire elevation data, particularly in the coastal areas where a tsunami might occur and information is required to assess the same.

Asian countries face the challenge in terms of the quality and access data owning to the procedures. Is GSI looking into these aspects and making data easily available to people?

There are two aspects — distribution and acquiring data. We make sure that the data is updated and the information is very current. It was very important for us to map road networks and other things for people who come from outside. We cooperate with road managers in Japan and we get CAD data from them, and then extract data from it and put it up so that people can access it. This is one of our biggest accomplishments and we’re trying to do the same in railway networks and airports. It’s a little difficult to get in touch with local municipalities, but we’ve been asking for central government’s support in helping us out and hopefully, this cooperation will materialise very soon. When it comes to distribution, we are well aware of the fact that there are people who don’t have access to the internet, so we provide them paper maps. We also provide CDs for those who need original data. The government is trying to promote the idea of open data.

The idea on the relevance of National Mapping Organisation is changing because of the proliferation of the private companies. How is GSI positioning itself?

It’s challenging sometimes. There are two or three companies that we need to work with. These are mostly IT giants that are providing a lot of information with good interface. I think it’s a good thing for people to be exposed to the latest geospatial information. Realising how important it is, people hopefully start using our data too and appreciate authoritative data too. I also think the idea of ‘one nation map’ is important, so that we have a common platform for data of the entire country. The progress towards that effort is slow, but we will get there soon.

We also appreciate activities like voluntary geographical information (VGI). For example, sometimes we face difficulty updating mountain trails because most of them can’t be seen through air photos. But through VGI, these can be mapped easily. Landslides frequently occur in our area, so we make sure that we get in touch with the local governments and update the mountain trail data periodically. Volunteers are provided with GPS receivers, so that they can gather data on the go and pass on to us. We train them in advance to use the instrument.