Please steal our Japan (Niseko) backcountry ski map

Posted on Feb 7, 2023
Posted on Feb 7, 2023
0 0
Recently on, we published our first ever physical map, Niseko Backcountry. See the companion site here. In this post, we detail how you can use publicly available Japan government GIS data to recreate Niseko Backcountry, or create your own winter-themed topomap for elsewhere in Japan. 日本語はこちら

Last updated Feb 9, 2023


How to create winter-themed topographical maps using Japan government map data

The Japan government provides very detailed topographic map data for re-use, even for commercial projects. We've got a super in-depth post about how to use that data here: Demystifying Japan Official Topographical Map Shapefiles

In this post, we're going to go step by step through the process of recreating Niseko Backcountry using the free open-source GIS software, QGIS. In theory, by using the files we introduce in this post, anyone could produce their own backcountry ski map, in style, for other regions of Japan.

Just a heads up: This is not a one-click process. There is a lot of manual work and decision making required. But for anyone with a moderate amount of experience with QGIS, this post should cut out a lot of work in getting a map product underway.

If you're well acquainted with QGIS, then you can probably skip the details and go straight to the Open Science Framework (OSF) repository with all the files you need: Niseko Backcountry GIS Files on OSF

Total Time Needed: 2 years

Required Tools

- A computer
- A camera
- Ski touring gear

Things Needed

- QGIS (free software)
- Map data (GSI Shapefiles)
- QGIS Style Files (download here: ZIP, 428KB)
- Adobe InDesign License

Steps to create a winter-themed topomap in Japan

STEP 1 - Get and install QGIS
QGIS (download here) is an extremely popular open-source software for GIS (geographic information system) work. It's free. And we created the Niseko Backcountry map panels exclusively using this very powerful software. Using QGIS, we can transform the Japan government map data into visual representations of that data. For example, the Japan government provides contour line data. In its raw state, the data is just numbers and databases and tags. Using QGIS, we can display that data as actual visual information - lines on a screen representing contour lines on a map.
Working with QGIS to create Niseko Backcountry (ski map, Hokkaido, Japan)
STEP 2 - Get the files

For educational purposes, we've provided most of the files necessary for replicating Niseko Backcountry in the OSF repository, under Niseko Backcountry 1st Edition Data > QGIS Project Files.

To download all the files as a ZIP file (1.1Gb), click here

If you're using this guide for creating your own map in a different part of Japan (or different part of Hokkaido), you'll need to download the relevant map data files (shapefiles) either from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan for free (basic map data only) or for a fee from the Japan Map Center here (all map data layers available).

Niseko Backcountry raw data on Open Science Framework (OSF)
STEP 3 - Apply for permissions (optional)

In order to use the Japan government map data for a commercial product, or something that will be shared widely to the general public, you'll need to apply for permission to use the data. It's unlikely that you'll be rejected - this is more a process whereby the Japan government keeps a record of how their data is being utilized. Full details of how to do this can be found in this post. If you're just using the data for a hobby project, or for a research paper, or for use within a mountain club etc, there's usually no need to apply for permissions.

After applying for permission, you'll get a document like this, and you can display a note like below on your product.

Niseko Backcountry Geospatial Information Authority of Japan Permissions
STEP 4 - Load the QGIS project file

In the QGIS files folder (download as 1.1Gb ZIP here), there's a QGIS project file called Niseko-Backcountry-1st-Edition-Data_qfield.qgs. Open that file in your QGIS installation.

That will load the current Niseko Backcountry working version, minus the fonts.

STEP 5 - Get the fonts
As mentioned above, we've used some premium fonts in our map, namely HelveticaNeueLT for English, and Kozuka Gothic Pr6N for some of the Japanese.
STEP 6 - Get the QGIS print templates

QGIS has a very powerful (yet slightly clunky) print layout composer module. You can download our print layout files here (ZIP, 83Kb). This ZIP file includes the full Arch E2 size Niseko Range panel (66cm x 97cm), and the Yotei-zan panel QGIS print templates.

There will be some tweaking required, such as legend items etc., but hopefully this should give you an idea of what is possible within QGIS.

nisekobackcountry-QGIS-print-composer-niseko-range panel
STEP 7 - Get the InDesign file

We exported the main map panels from the QGIS Print Composer as TIFFs, and imported these into Adobe InDesign for the final layout work. The main Niseko Range map panel was used as-is, but the back of the map required a lot of text layout work.

You can download the InDesign file we used here (.indd file, 16Mb).

STEP 8 - Liaise with the community

If you haven't already, once you have a working draft of the map, it's time to conduct public meetings and private one-on-one meetings with stakeholders in your region of interest, both Japanese and non-Japanese. Some might say this should be the very first step in map-creation. However, without a working draft, discussions can just become unhelpfully hypothetical.

We held two public meetings about the Niseko Backcountry map, multiple one-on-one meetings, and liaised with a number of people via email and telephone. Feedback ranged from strong support to strong (in rare cases hostile) opposition. This process of liaising with the community was scary at times, but ultimately was a very positive process that refined the map in so many ways.

  • First round of feedback - About five months out from printing, we consulted one-on-one with a number of local foreign guides in the Niseko area. We received very helpful feedback, which we worked into the first draft of the map (mostly relating to the text on the rear of the map).Overall the feedback was positive and supportive.
  • Public Meeting 1 (slides here, PDF, 13Mb) - About three months out from printing, we held an open town-hall style meeting at a local community center (the Kutchan Community Center). We advertised this meeting on Facebook (as a Facebook Event - see it here). We also faxed information about the event to local police, transport authorities, and council offices (see the faxed letter here). About six people responded as going, but in the end, our small room in the community center was packed with about 30-40 people, mostly local Japanese guides. We received a lot of passionate pushback and opposition at this public meeting. We were also thanked for taking the time to at least share and liaise with the community.
  • Public Meeting 2 (slides here, PDF, 16Mb) - Three weeks after the first public meeting, we held another meeting at the Niseko Residents' Center. This time we were more organized and targeted in invitations to local stakeholders. Rather than opening the meeting up to anyone, we sent faxes and emails to representatives of local organizations - ski patrol, ski areas, DMOs, avalanche safety associations, guide network representatives etc. In all, we sent almost 20 faxes or emails, addressed to specific individuals (or offices). You can download all of those fax documents here (ZIP, 40Mb). It's possible to find names of most public office department heads on the Hokkaido Prefecture website here. In all, we had about 15 people attend the second meeting (representatives from Niseko Town, Iwanai Town, Hokkaido Tourism Promotion Board, Niseko Avalanche Prevention Committee, Niseko Winter Guides Association, Hanazono Ski Area etc). The tone of this meeting was much more constructive than the first meeting, with more diverse points of views represented.
  • Individual emails - we exchanged opinions and fielded feedback from the likes of the Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association and others via email also.
  • Final feedback and compromise - We received the most hefty pushback on the map from the Niseko Winter Guides Association (NWGA), a network of local mountain and nature guides in the greater Niseko area. Through discussions, however, it became clear that while many members of the network indicated a preference that the map not exist at all, those members were mainly concerned with a select few routes where parking particularly encroached on small, local communities. We found an amicable (if still somewhat strained) compromise by deleting those routes of particular concern from the map.

Community Liaison Report - We wrote up a report on the public feedback, available here in English (PDF, 1.5Mb) and Japanese (PDF, 1.5Mb).

Photo by Haidee Thomson
STEP 9 - Print and distribute

We registered as a publisher with the Japan ISBN Agency, which gave us the ability to use an ISBN code for the map, as a self-publisher. As for the printing and folding of the large Arch E2 size map, the only printer in Japan we could find to print on waterproof, tear-proof Yupo synthetic paper, at that size, and all machine folded, was Buyodo 武揚堂. Byuodo is Japan's oldest mapmaking company, and were fairly good to work with. They weren't able to provide us with a full folded offset print sample of the map on Yupo paper prior to committing to the 3000 copies, but in the end the map came out extremely well, with a great fold too. We paid 240yen per copy (printed, folded, shipped to Sapporo from Tokyo).

For distribution, a number of local accommodation providers in the Niseko area took maps on wholesale (1000yen), as well as retailers like Rhythm Japan. There's a full list of stockists here.

Niseko Backcountry Map from printers
STEP 10 - Get out and use the map
Last step is to get out there and use the map!
Niseko Backcountry Ski Map

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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.