Demystifying Japan Official Topographical Map Shapefiles

Posted on Feb 14, 2019
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Posted on Feb 14, 2019

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Reading time: 12 min
In this post, we provide in-depth tips on how to use publically available Japanese government topographical map shapefiles to create your own PDF topographical maps of Japan. Permissions, shapefile attributes, QGIS style files, Japanese to English conversion for place names, inDesign template files...this post will make non-GIS geeks' heads spin. But if you have an elementary knowledge of QGIS or other GIS software, this post should steer you in the right direction. Using the style files and tips in this post, you should be able to use the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) shapefiles to reproduce the Hokkaido Wilds TOPOMAP+ PDF maps.

Just recently here on the Hokkaido Wilds, we’ve begun providing free, downloadable, printable PDF topographic maps of the ski touring, hiking, and snowshoeing routes we publish here on the site; just look for the TOPOMAP+ button on route pages. We use QGIS, a GIS software, for the mapping work. So far we’ve got maps for the Italian Route (PDF), Bankei Hut hike (PDF), Asahidake-Kurodake Traverse (PDF), Monbetsu-dake snowshoe route (PDF), Sapporo-dake ski tour route (PDF) among others. The workflow to produce these maps is: make the topomap in QGIS, export as PDF, import the PDF into inDesign, do the layout/description/photos etc.

NOTE: I’m an amateur who is, really, grossly under-qualified to be schooling anyone on GIS stuff. I do understand Japanese though, so if you’re experienced with GIS and you have a question about the shapefiles or anything else that might require some Japanese interpretation, please let me know in the comments section. 

If you are familiar with QGIS, applying styles, and the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) vector files, and you just want to have a go at reproducing the Hokkaido Wilds map styles, then download our QGIS styles here (ZIP file).

If you want more details about attributes and the different kinds of shapefiles, then read on.

Contents (in-page links)

For much of the process of using GSI vector files, including downloading DEM vector/shape files and applying for permissions (see below), you’ll need a GSI account. So, first, make an account.

  1. Access https://onestop.gsi.go.jp/onestopservice/onestop_login.html and click on 新規登録 or ‘sign up’ if using Google Translate or similar.
  2. Follow the on-screen instructions to create your account.

NOTE:  I checked the account creation page using the built-in Google Translate feature on Google Chrome, and the English translation was mostly legible. Note however that the page will jump back to Japanese when fields are updated etc. Just re-translate the page and you should be OK. I also tried copy and pasting the account signup page URL into the Google Translate page, but this didn’t go as well (pages stalled etc). Where possible, try using your browser’s in-built translation features.

In order to use GSI map data for your map project, permission must be sought from the GSI director. This is all free, no charges required, even for commercial use. This can be done online, but the interface is in Japanese. You can, however, use the built-in English translation feature of your browser.

For the Hokkaido Wilds purposes, we are using (使用) the map data and visualizing it in our own way, so there is no need to apply for reproduction (複製) permissions (as would be the case if we use the GSI raster map tiles). So, I’ll only talk about the data usage permissions here. 

For our purposes we applied for the use of the GSI Basic Geospatial Information Digital Maps (基盤地図情報 – actual map data including contour lines, DEM etc) and National Land Numerical Information (数値地図 – just for bus routes http://nlftp.mlit.go.jp/ksj-e/index.html).

Procedure for applying for permission to use GSI map data

  1. Log into your GSI account (https://onestop.gsi.go.jp/onestopservice/onestop_login.html). See account creation details above.
  2. Access https://onestop.gsi.go.jp/onestopservice/.
  3. Click on the 申請  (application) button for ①数値地図、紙地図、空中写真、基盤地図情報等の複製承認申請または使用承認申請 (Google Translate: Application for copying approval or application for approval for use such as numerical map, paper map, aerial photograph, foundation map information etc).
  4. Work through the application flow, according to this PDF, which will cover the use (使用) of GSI vector data for creation of paper and/or PDF maps.
  5. Once you’ve filled everything in and submitted it, a PDF copy of your permission will be sent to your email within about 3 working days from GSI.
  6. On any map project covered by your permission, you’ll need to display the Japanese text indicated on the PDF permissions document (see an example here, at the bottom of the top middle panel of the first page).

Use the styles here to reproduce the Hokkaido Wilds topomap styles in QGIS (ZIP file): download

Reproduce and/or build on the Hokkaido Wilds PDF map layouts/color schemes using the following inDesign files.

NOTE: The PDF map portions are created/edited in QGIS, exported as PDF from QGIS, and inserted into inDesign.

FONTS: These layouts use the free Lato and Jaapokki fonts. For any Japanese text, we’re using the Kozuka Gothic Pr6N font.

Projection – I use UTM Zone 54N (WGS 84).

Bus Routes and Stops – Bus route and bus stop shapefiles can be downloaded from http://nlftp.mlit.go.jp/ksj-e/gml/gml_datalist.html (JPGIS2.1 GML shapefile format). I found that these layers needed to be in EPSG 4326 projection for some reason, in order for them to show up. For converting the kanji bus stop names to romaji, take a look below at the bus stop name conversion section. Here’s our bus route QGIS style files: bus route (lines), bus stops plus labels (Japanese, English).

GSI Shapefiles

GSI provides either free or premium shapefile downloads. The free version includes both DEM and map data, but the map data attributes are limited, and the DEM is limited to 5m and 10m meshes. The paid versions, at 175yen per set (about 12.75km x 10.5km = 134km²), include all available attributes for the given area, and the DEM includes 5m, 10m, and 50m meshes.

For both the  free and premium download interfaces, the in-built Google Translate feature on Google Chrome does a decent job at translating the Japanese into English, if required. For the Hokkaido Wilds PDF maps, I’m mainly using the GSI SHP format vector files.

GSI Basic Information Shapefile Attribute Tags

Tag Description Hokkaido Wilds QGIS Style Files
Anno Annotations - mostly place names such as mountains, rivers, towns, tunnels etc. Japanese, English - we've set different styles for the different languages. See below for instructions to automate the kana to English (romaji) transliteration process.
AdmBdry Administrative district boundary. We don't include this on the Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
AdmPt Representative point of Administrative Area - we don't include this in the Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
SBBdry Street block boundary - we don't use this on the Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
SBAPt Representative point of street block area - we don't use this on Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
RdEdg Road edge - the edge of roads. Unlike RdCL (road center lines), the road edge attributes only have three types: normal (通常部, ftCode=2201), park paths (庭園路, ftCode=2221) and other (その他, ftCode=2200). RdEdg_road_edges.qml
RdCompt Road Component - So far I've only used this for indicating edges of roads in tunnels (トンネル内の道路, ftCode=2401), but there's also median barrier features (分離帯, ftCode=2411). RdCompt_tunnel_edges.qml
RdMgtBdry Road management boundary - we don't use this on Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
RdCL Road centerline - Road centerlines, with category (rdCtg; 都道府県道/prefectural, 市町村道等/municipal, 国道/national, 高速自動車国道等/expressway, その他/other), width (rnkWidth; 3m未満 is 'less than 3m'), type (type; includes 徒歩道 /walkway, 石段/steps, 庭園道/park paths, 通常部/normal, and その他/other), and state (state; トンネル/tunnel, 橋・高架/bridge-elevated, 雪覆い/snow cover). ftCode appears to refer to a combination of these attributes. RdCL_road-centerlines.qml
RailTrCL Railway track centerline - this includes normal (ftCode=2801), other (ftCode=2802), bridge/elevated (ftCode=2803), tunnel (ftCode=2804), special railway (ftCode=2811), ropeway (ftCode=2821), streetcar (ftCode=2831), and side-track (ftCode=2841 & 2842).

I've got two centerline styles for this: one to be used when you want a black and white dashed line (here), and one when you want a solid black line (here). To be used in conjunction with RailCL.

The white dashed line is nice when there's only a single track, but when there's two or more tracks next to each other, things look a little cluttered, so I revert to the solid black line in these cases.

TrfSbl Traffic facility symbol - this includes national road numbers (nRNo) and level crossings (ftCode=2902). At the moment the Hokkaido Wilds maps only use this for adding highway number labels to roads. TrfSbl_highway-numbers.qml
TrfTnnlEnt Tunnel entrances - a dedicated line shapefile indicating tunnel entrances. TrfTnnlEnt_tunnel_entrances.qml
TrfStrct Traffic structures - this includes snow covers over roads (ftCode=2931), railway platform/station (ftCode=2921) and subway platform/station (ftCode=2922). TrfSrtct_traffic_structures.qml
BldA Building area - the area a building/structure occupies. At the moment we've got winter and summer styles.
BldL Building outline - outline of building/structure area. At the moment we don't use this on Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
BldSbl Building symbol - this includes many types, but we don't currently use this on the Hokkaido Wilds maps: public office (ftCode=3201), court (ftCode=3202), tax office (ftCode=3203), city office (ftCode=3205), town/village office (ftCode=3206), police box (ftCode=3211), high school (ftCode=3212), middle school (ftCode=3213), elementary school (ftCode=3214), old-person's home (ftCode=3215), museum (ftCode=3216), library (ftCode=3217), post office (ftCode=3218), lighthouse (ftCode=3221), Shinto shrine (ftCode=3231), Buddhist temple (ftCode=3232), police office (ftCode=3241), fire department (ftCode=3242), hospital (ftCode=3243), public health office (ftCode=3244). N/A
StrctSbl Structural symbol - We don't use this on Hokkaido Wilds maps, but this includes windmills/wind-power turbines (ftCode=4102), chimneys (ftCode=4101), and oil/gas wells (ftCode=4103). N/A
StrctLine Structural line - not used on Hokkaido Wilds maps, but this includes mine entrances (ftCode=4202), and towers (ftCode=4201). N/A
StrctArea Structure area - not used on Hokkaido Wilds maps, but includes very large structures (ftCode=4301) and tanks (ftCode=4302). N\A
WA Water area - Areas of water. Includes either river/lakes etc (ftCode=5200) or sea/ocean (ftCode=5100). WA_water_areas.qml
Cstline Coastline - this includes normal (ftCode=5101), interfacing with rocks (ftCode=5102), interfacing with wave-breaks (ftCode=5103), river mouth (ftCode=5111), exposed rocks (ftCode=5121), other (ftCode=5188) and unknown (ftCode=5199). Cstline_coastline.qml
WL Water line - includes:
  • Rivers
    • normal (ftCode=5201)
    • interfacing with rocks (ftCode=5202)
    • interfacing with dike/bank (ftCode=5203)
    • river mouth(ftCode=5211)
    • border with lake (ftCode=5212)
    • exposed rocks (ftCode=5213)
  • Lakes/ponds
    • normal (ftCode=5231)
    • interfacing with rocks (ftCode=5232)
    • interfacing with dike/bank (ftCode=5233)
    • border with lake (ftCode=5242)
    • exposed rocks (ftCode=5251)
  • Other (ftCode=5288)
  • Unknown (ftCode=5299)
WL_water_outlines.qml
RvrCL River centerline - includes primary rivers (normal (ftCode=5301) and dry (ftCode=5302)), secondary rivers (normal (ftCode=5311) and dry (ftCode=5312)), man-made waterways (above- (ftCode=5321) and below-ground (ftCode=5322)), irrigation channels (ftCode=5331), other (ftCode=5388) and unknown (ftCode=5399). RvrCL_river_centerline.qml
WStrL Waterside structure line - includes dams (ftCode=5501), weir (ftCode=5514), water/flood-gate (ftCode=5515), waterfall (ftCode=5521), permeable dike (ftCode=5532), water tunnel entrance (ftCode=5551). WStrL_water_structure.qml
WfArea Waterfall area - point-based shapefile. WfArea_waterfall.qml
WRltLine Water related line - includes marine vessel (ftCode=5901), marine vessel route (ftCode=5902), water current direction (ftCode=5911). WRltLine_ship_route.qml
SpcfArea Specific area - this line-based shapefile appears to be small, possibly private walkways. in Japanese 特定地区界. SpcfArea_walkways.qml
Park Park - park areas. We don't use this in Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
LUSbl Land use symbol - in the Hokkaido Wilds maps, we only indicate onsen and fumeroles. However, this point-based file includes graveyards (ftCode=6301), paddy field (ftCode=6311), cropland field (ftCode=6312), tea-tree field (ftCode=6313), orchard (ftCode=6314), broad-leaved forest (ftCode=6321), needle-leaf forest (ftCode=6322), bamboo forest (ftCode=6323), palm forest (ftCode=6324), haimatsu creeping pine (ftCode=6325), sasa bamboo grass (ftCode=6326), barren (ftCode=6327), onsen hotspring (ftCode=6331), fumerole (ftCode=6332), historical ruin/important natural feature (ftCode=6341), castle ruins (ftCode=6342), quarry (ftCode=6351), port (ftCode=6361), fishing port (ftCode=6362). Style file: LUSbl_land-use-symbol.qml. SVGs: onsen, fumerole.
GCP Geodetic control point - in my amateur parlance, I refer to these as 'main' elevation points, because many of them are 三角点 or trig points at the top of mountains. There are many more types of these in the data - if you need a translation of the different types, let me know in the comments. GCP_elevation_point_main_Ver2.qml
ElevPt Elevation points - there are special points (ftCode=7211), grid elevation points (ftCode=7212), other (ftCode=7288) and unknown (ftCode=7299). ElevPt_elevation_points_Ver2.qml
Cntr Contour lines - knockouts for elevations and cliffs/rocks are denoted by the feature codes: normal (ftCode=7351), number (ftCode=7352), cliff/rock (ftCode=7353). Summer, winter.
Isbt Isobath - underwater contour lines, including knockouts: normal (ftCode=7371), number knockout (ftCode=7372), cliff/rock knockout (ftCode=7373). On the Hokkaido Wilds maps, we only show the 100m lines. Isbt_underwater_contours.qml
TpgphArea Topographical representative area - includes marsh/swamp (ftCode=7401), permanent ice/snow (ftCode=7402), beach/gravel (ftCode=7403). TpgphArea_beaches_gravel.qml
TpgphLine Topographical representative line - the main point of interest for mountain-focused maps is rocks (ftCode=7512) and cliffs (ftCode=7509). TpgphLine_cliffs_rocks_style.qml
TpgphSbl Topographical representative symbol - this point-based file refers to sand and gravel where the extent of the area is not clear. TpgphSbl_scree_beach_sand_etc.qml
WAltiWDpth Water depth - point-based file with numerical depths (altiDpth). WaltiDpth_water-depth.dml
PwrPlnt Power plants - not currently included on the Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
VegeClassP Vegetation classification point - not included on Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
RTwr Radio tower - not included in Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
Monument Monument - not currently included on Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
RailCL Railroad centerline - this includes the following. No specific feature codes present for this attribute.

  • railState
    • 通常部/normal
    • トンネル/tunnel
    • 橋・高架/bridge-elevated
    • 雪覆い/snow-cover
    • 地下/underground
  • snglDbl
    • 駅部分/train station section
    • 側線/side-track
    • 単線/single track
    • 複線以上/multiple
  • type
    • 索道/ropeway-cableway
    • 特殊鉄道/special railway
    • 不明/unknown
    • 普通鉄道(JR)/normal rail (JR)
    • 普通鉄道(JR以外)/normal rail (other than JR)
    • 路面鉄道/streetcar rail

I've got two centerline styles for this: one to be used when you want a black and white dashed line (here), and one when you want a solid black line (here). To be used in conjunction with RailTrCL.

The white dashed line is nice when there's only a single track, but when there's two or more tracks next to each other, things look a little cluttered, so I revert to the solid black line in these cases.

PwrTrnsmL High-tension power transmission lines - this doesn't include pylon locations. In QGIS, I use the GRASS v.to.points plugin (from the Processing Toolbox) to put points along the line, to use as pylons. Even on the GSI official topomaps, the pylon locations appear to be arbitrary.

Power transmission line style: PwrTrnsml_powerlines.qml

Pylon style: PwrTrnsml_powerlines.qml

VegeClassL Vegetational classification line - not included in the Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
WoodRes Wooded residence - not sure what this is used for. Not included in the Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A
VLine Virtual line - another 'note sure' attribute. Not used in the Hokkaido Wilds maps. N/A

How to convert kana place names to English (romaji)

The ‘anno’ denoted shapefiles is where all the place name information is stored. Here’s a ‘place name parser’ (Excel sheet) I’ve created that will take the kana (i.e., hiragana and katakana) and convert it to romaji (English-letters), and put a hyphen in front of yama (mountain), kawa (river), numa (pond) etc. My work flow is:

  1. Open the place name parser Excel sheet (download here). This sheet works for most place name types, but some manual editing may be required.
  2. Open the attribute table in QGIS for the ‘anno’ denoted shapefile, copy-and-paste the entire table into a new Excel sheet (not the place name parser sheet).
  3. Copy-and-paste the ‘kana’ column into an online kana to romaji converter. The fastest and most easy to use one I’ve found is this one: http://hebonshiki-henkan.info/. This removes long vowels, such that ‘Toukyou’ becomes the more familiar ‘Tokyo’.
  4. Copy and paste the resulting romaji list into the A) Paste romaji-converted kana column in the place name parser Excel file, and then copy the B, C, D and E cells down all of the rows.
  5. Without reordering anything, copy and paste the E) FINAL PRODUCT (Name + type) column content from the place name parser sheet into a column in the Excel sheet that contains the raw attribute table data. Name this column name. Delete all other columns except for the rID column – you’ll use this to match the data in QGIS.
  6. Save the resulting Excel sheet as a CSV file, with the filename ‘place_names_en.csv’.
  7. Back in QGIS, add the CSV file you just created as a new vector layer.
  8. Duplicate the existing ‘anno’ layer, and rename this to something like ‘Anno EN’.
  9. Double-click on the Anno EN layer to open the Properties window, and navigate to ‘Joins’. Click on the Plus (+) icon to add a new join. Choose the place_names_en layer as the Join Layer, and the rID columns in each layer as the Join Fields.
  10. Now, when you apply the English Anno style file to the Anno EN layer, you’ll get English labels appear.

How to convert kanji bus stop names to English (romaji)

This involves A) converting kanji to kana, and B) converting kana to romaji. See this excel sheet for an example.

  1. Create a unique numerical ID for each bus stop in the attribute table in QGIS. I used a simple ascending number (instructions). You’ll use this when joining the English with the original Japanese shapefile.
  2. Now copy and paste the bus stop layer attribute table into Excel (all 13,000+ rows in Hokkaido’s case).
  3. Make furigana display on the kanji bus stop names using VBA. Usually you can easily add furigana in Excel according to these instructions, but for some reason this doesn’t work with this data, so we have to use VBA.
    • Select all kanji cells (column P11_001). Go to DEVELOPMENT → VBA. Go to DISPLAY → IMMEDIATE WINDOW.
    • Paste “Selection.SetPhonetic” (without quotation marks) into the Immediate Window and hit Enter. Wait for Excel to process the data.
    • Now add furigana to the kanji cells (instructions).
  4. Use the =PHONETIC() command to extract the kana from the kanji+furigana cells. See the kana column in this excel sheet for how to use this.
  5. Use http://hebonshiki-henkan.info/ to convert the kana to romaji.
  6. Save this file as a CSV, add it as a layer in QGIS, and join it with a duplicated bus stop layer. Use the resulting English bus stop name column as your label field.

Biodiversity Center of Japan Shapefiles

The Biodiversity Center of Japan provides 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale vegetation maps for Japan. I use them to indicate bare land, shrub land (including sasa fields and haimatsu areas etc), and forested land on the Hokkaido Widls maps. The 1:25,000 scale maps cover most of Japan (about 75% of Hokkaido), and are shockingly accurate (at least for Hokkaido). The 1:50,000 maps completely cover Japan, but do not give as much granularity.

1:25,000 scale vegetation maps

Download (no registration required) | Chose your prefecture on this page: http://gis.biodic.go.jp/webgis/sc-025.html?kind=vg67. The built-in Google Translate feature of Google Chrome does a decent job translating the Japanese.

QGIS styles | I’ve styled the 1:25,000 map data such that as much as possible, DAI_C (大区分) attributes correspond to bare land (or cultivated/urban areas), shrub land, and forests, according to this pictorial legend by the biodiversity center.

Area referencing | Files are downloaded prefecture-by-prefecture. In the ZIP file will be folders that correspond to the numbered mesh on this page.

Attribution | On any maps you produce using the data, you need to include an attribution along the lines of “This map uses modified 1:25,000 scale vegetation map GIS data created by the Biodiversity Center of Japan, Ministry of the Environment (http://gis.biodic.go.jp)” (see their Terms of Service in Japanese).

1:50,000 scale vegetation maps

Download (no registration required) | Chose your region on this page: http://gis.biodic.go.jp/webgis/sc-025.html?kind=vg. The built-in Google Translate feature of Google Chrome struggles a little more with this, at least for Hokkaido – Hokkaido regions are split into the first two rows (total of six downloads).

QGIS styles | Similar to the 1:25,000 map data, I’ve styled the 1:50,000 data such that as much as possible, MAJOR1 attributes correspond to bare land (or cultivated/urban areas), shrub land, and forests, according to this attribute table.

  • Summer vegetation style – 50000_vegetation_style.qml
    This style was inspired by Patterson & Kelso’s (2004) paper outlining the development of a vegetation classification scheme based on the USGS NLCD classification scheme.
  • Winter vegetation style – 50000_vegetation_style_winter_Ver4.qml
    This style collapses the shrub land and bare land into one color, and forests into another. Basically, if it is light blue, then you’re skiing in an area with no trees. Darker blue means you’re skiing between trees.

Area referencing | Files are downloaded prefecture-by-prefecture (or region by rebion in Hokkaido). In the ZIP file will be folders that correspond roughly to the numbered mesh on this page.

Attribution | On any maps you produce using the data, you need to include an attribution along the lines of “This map uses modified 1:50,000 scale vegetation map GIS data created by the Biodiversity Center of Japan, Ministry of the Environment (http://gis.biodic.go.jp)” (see their Terms of Service in Japanese).

Hokkaido Wilds hillshade styles

To give the quasi-3D hill effect on the Hokkaido Wilds PDF maps, I’ve tried adapting John Nelson’s Eduard Imhof-inspired hillshade gradiations (see them here) to the GSI 10m mesh DEM shapefiles (free download from here). I don’t think I’ve done a particularly great job of it, but here they are nonetheless. The summer and winter versions are slightly different in that there’s much less greyscale hillshade in the winter version.

NOTE: I use a free Japanese program to create and merge the DEM files (基盤地図情報標高DEM変換ツール) into TIFFs. I then give the hillshade TIFFs a 2px Gaussian blur in Photoshop before adding them to QGIS (Geographic Imager plugin or similar required to output geoTIFFs in Photoshop).

Hokkaido Wilds GPX route styles

To indicate a route on the Hokkaido Wilds PDF TOPOMAP+ maps, I import the route’s GPX track into QGIS using the “GPS Tools” plugin. I then apply the following styles.

NOTE: For the waypoints, I manually add either ‘dest’ (main point of interest along route), ‘hut’, ‘campground’ or ‘avalanche’ to the description column cell in order to get the icons to appear. In cases where a campground or hut is not specifically named in the “Anno” shapefile, I’ll add the name in Japanese and English in the ‘comment’ column, separated by a comma as a line-break.

Comments | Queries | Discussion

2 thoughts on “Demystifying Japan Official Topographical Map Shapefiles”

    1. Thanks Chris. I took a quick look at that avalanche data, but it doesn’t look very comprehensive – there’s only seven recorded avalanches/landslides in the Sapporo/Niseko region (https://cdn-images.hokkaidowilds.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/avvy-data.png). A more detailed, up to date info page/map about avalanches in Hokkaido is this one: http://kenkyu.h-nadare.com/?page_id=273&zoom=7&lat=142.818854&long=43.657533 Although, it look like the points on that map might not have been updated since 2017…and I can’t find anywhere to download the data. Thanks again!

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