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Surveying and Mapping in Japan: Geo-information for disaster prevention


Saurabh Mishra
Assistant Editor
mailto: [email protected]

The Japanese archipelago is located in a tectonically active region, where crusts move and deform continuously, and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur frequently. This dynamic geology of the country defines the 'focus areas' of R&D in geospatial sciences. These areas are clearly outlined in the Sixth Long Term Plan on Basic Survey (2004-2013), one of the policy documents that Geographical Survey Institute (GSI) has been regularly publishing. They are:

  • wide availability of position data with high accuracy
  • continuous monitoring of crustal movements
  • geo-information for disaster prevention

In Japan, several government organisations are responsible for fundamental surveying, mapping and charting projects. Basic geodetic surveys are carried out mainly by the Geographical Survey Institute (GSI) and the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Department (HOD). They too are involved in various cartographic works that are primarily carried out by the following organisations:

  • Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT)
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)
  • Geological Survey of Japan/National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (GSJ/AIST)

GSI, which is located in Tsukuba, is now a part of MLIT but was originally established as Cadastral & Map Division of Ministry of Civil Service in 1869. As a National Mapping Organization in charge of national topographic mapping of Japan, GSI has prepared various types of digital map data, which it distributes through CD-ROM. These include Digital Map 2500 (Framework data), Digital Map 5000 (Land Use), Digital Map 25000 (Framework Data, Administrative Boundaries & Coastlines, Land Condition), Digital Map 5 m mesh (Elevation), and 10 m mesh (Elevation).

Fig. 1 Outline of the Sixth Long-Term Plan for Basic Survey

GIS in Japan
It was after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in January 1995, in which more than 250,000 houses gutted and more than 6,400 people died, that GIS was effectively used for spatially assessing the situation and consequently very helpful for planning and implementation of restoration from the damages. From this experience, many people came to recognize the importance and effectiveness of GIS. After that GIS became widely popular in Japan. According to the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Promoting Association (NSDIPA), the total scale of Japan's GIS market, including public and private sectors, can grow from 1999's 680 billion-yen (£3.7 billion) to 6.14 trillion-yen (£78 billion) in 2010.

The whole of Japan is covered in about 4,300 sheets of national base map at a scale of 1:25,000. Local municipalities are in charge of preparing 1:2500 scale topographic maps mainly for urban planning. Preparation of cadastral map data is organized by MLIT and implemented by local municipalities. For digital maps for car navigation, base maps are prepared by Japan Digital Road Map Association. Based on these maps, private map companies add various pieces of information and distribute them to end-users. As for facility management such as telephone and gas, companies which manage these facilities prepare maps by themselves. Some of them are modified for the use of general public and thereafter distributed.

One of the characteristics of GIS in Japan is that users of GIS themselves develop GIS Data. GIS is used in various departments of local governments for fixing property taxation rates, urban planning and facility management. Each of these departments tend to prepare their own base maps. Considering this situation, concept of integrated GIS has been introduced, which aims to share base map data in all departments of the local government. The new basic law under discussion in the National Diet (Japan's legislature) aims to extend this philosophy to GIS systems, especially those which are used in central and local government, as much as possible.

Policy Scenario
The activities, goals and scope of the basic survey (surveys that serve as a basis for all other surveys, and those that are conducted by GSI) were laid down in the Survey Act of 30th June 2004 , which states that surveys should be well planned and systematically integrated, for which long-term plans are to be devised. The Act regulates general surveying and mapping in Japan, especially those planned and partly financed by the public sector. At present, draft basic law for accelerating use of geo-information by GIS is under discussion in the National Diet.

In order to coordinate the work of relevant organisations and integrate policies, the Japanese government established GIS Liaison Committee of Ministries and Agencies and established GIS Promotion Association of Government and Private Sectors.