HokkaidoWilds.org takes home Grand Prize in 2021 Geo Activity Contest

Posted on Dec 9, 2021
Posted on Dec 9, 2021
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TOKYO, JAPAN | English-language Hokkaido outdoor information website HokkaidoWilds.org won Grand Prize 最優秀賞 at the annual Geo Activity Contest Geoアクティビティコンテスト in Japan's capital city on Tuesday. Run by the Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, HokkaidoWild.org's entry was selected by an independent committee for the top honour out of 16 award nominees, chosen from entries from around Japan. HokkaidoWilds.org's entry showcased their use of the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan's 国土地理院 public map data to create English/Japanese topomaps that include UTM grids (a first for general-use topomaps in Japan). Tuesday's award adds to HokkaidoWilds.org's award tally at this annual event - in 2019 they won two runner-up awards.


Our entry to the Japan national 2021 Geo Activity Contest was titled “English-language mountaineering maps with UTM grids: Introducing international standards to domestic topographical maps” (UTMグリッド入りの英語表記登山地図―国内地形図を国際基準に―). Serious outdoors-people from outside Japan may be surprised to hear that non-military topographical maps in Japan do not feature UTM grids. Furthermore, search-and-rescue operations, police, outdoor-guides, and even many of the most experienced mountaineers and adventurers in Japan do not have a working knowledge of grid-referencing for communicating locations. However, for many visitors to Hokkaido who come here for hiking or backcountry skiing, as well as professional guides in Japan, a UTM grid and grid referencing is a key tool in one’s arsenal of tools for planning and keeping safe in the backcountry. Therefore, HokkaidoWilds.org started displaying UTM grids on their free, printable PDF topomaps from July 2021.


  • 1000m UTM grids, displayed in an internationally recognized format
  • Grid north and magnetic declination from grid north
  • Maps for hiking, backcountry skiing, and canoeing
  • English and Japanese language place-names for easy communication with locals, and easy on-the-trail navigation
  • Users can print the maps at home, but they can also use the Avenza Maps smartphone app to see their location on the map, offline, in real time.
  • The front of the PDF maps have 1:25000 scale topographical maps, created with Japan government map data.
  • The rear of the maps have the route guide and photos that the Hokkaido Wilds team have produced.
  • The maps are foldable, and have a great color scheme – main title and accent colors by Dominika Gan, and vegetation colors are based on the USGS vegetation colorings (see Patterson & Kelso, 2004). 


In the 2021 Geo Activity Contest, entries were judged based on a pre-recorded presentation by each entry.

Play Video


The UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) grid system covers the globe in a 1km x 1km grid. All developed-world governments in the world (besides Japan) make use of this grid system in official government-issued topographical maps. It has been the global standard grid referencing system, used in conjunction with latitude/longitude positioning to assist in time-sensitive on-the-ground communication of locations. In an outdoor recreation setting, grid referencing is used as a very quick way to communicate within and across parties regarding locations of interest.

  • A grid coordinate of only six numbers is usually sufficient for communication places of interest (e.g., Mt. Fuji summit is 934-153).
  • This 6-number referencing makes communicating locations verbally much easier (try telling your mates in a snowstorm via radio the Mt. Fuji GPS coordinates: 35.360612, 138.727447).
  • Being able to communicate a grid reference reduces the strain of communicating between parties that don’t share a common language – no need for complicated descriptions of surrounding topography.
  • Generally, maps featuring UTM grids have grids of 1km x 1km, so it’s easy to grasp distances, regardless of map scale – even when in an area one has never been to before.


  • Currently, the only institution in Japan that regularly trains with and is proficient in the use of grid referencing in Japan is the Self-Defence Force.
  • Readily available local topomaps for outdoor use do not feature UTM grids (only lattitude/longitude and proprietary grid numbering/lettering systems).
  • Local search-and-rescue teams are not aware of UTM grid referencing. A representative we spoke to at the Hokkaido Police Bureau in Sapporo, in the department responsible for mountain search and rescue, told us he’d never heard of UTM grids. Another representative at the Asahikawa Police Bureau confirmed they did not use UTM grids during mountain search and rescue. 
  • Local search-and-rescue teams rely heavily on local knowledge of terrain – this quickly becomes an issue when outside support is required and/or when communicating with non-Japanese speaking parties.
  • The Geospacial Information Authority of Japan has been encouraging the wider use of UTM grids on maps since 2014. For a natural disaster prone country like Japan, the government is aware of the need for a more widely standardized method of location communication. Uptake by Japanese map makers, local councils and disaster prevention units remains low. 


  • HokkaidoWilds.org is hugely grateful to the UTM Grid Promotion Center Director Shigeyoshi Miyazawa (宮澤重義). He helped us understand the current state of UTM grid use in Japan. His non-profit organization works to provide local disaster relief organizations with maps to aid disaster response within Japan.
  • For our grids, we use open-source public domain UTM grid data supplied by Rakuno Gakuen University.
  • Thanks to Swiss cartographer Markus Hauser (author of the Asahidake topomap) for his initial idea for making English-language topomaps for HokkaidoWilds.org. Without his nudging in early 2019, we probably wouldn’t have started down this path.


HokkaidoWilds.org is a non-profit voluntary association that exists to inspire people to explore and enjoy Hokkaido and the surrounding areas’ extraordinary outdoors by ski, bicycle, foot and canoe in an informed, safe and responsible way. In addition to detailed written route guides with great photography, we also provide GPS route files, custom English-language GeoPDF topographical maps (using Japan government map data), and safety notes. HokkaidoWilds.org is run by a Hokkaido-loving group of authors and contributors (see them all here).


Photos by the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan

©Geo activity contest 2021

HokkaidoWilds.org photos

CC BY-SA HokkaidoWilds.org


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HokkaidoWilds.org takes home Grand Prize in 2021 Geo Activity Contest Difficulty Rating





Vertical Gain



Time ascending















GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.