Taking a Humanities-based Approach to Social Problems Using “Digital Maps” and Information Technology
Yuichi Hashimoto , Professor
Graduate School of Letters (Undergraduate School of Letters Department of Humanities and Human Sciences)
High school : Eiko Private High School (Kanagawa Prefecture).
Academic background : Doctorate from Tsukuba University.
- Research areas
- urban geography, geographical information science
- Research keywords
- digital maps, spatial consideration,
What are you aiming to achieve?
I am working on the development of “digital maps,” which will assist in solving a range of social problems. Expressing information that relates to nature and society in the form of maps has been carried out by geographers for many years. The art of viewing the earth from above, using maps, in order to consider various things, is known as “spatial consideration.” While spatial consideration is an important part of finding solutions to social problems, throughout history we have only been able to access maps printed on paper, which meant that detailed analysis was impossible and spatial consideration has not developed as far as it could have. Nowadays, however, we are able to store this information within computers in the form of “digital maps,” and the use of information technology allows it to be processed and analyzed to facilitate extremely advanced spatial consideration. I am working on ideas related to the use of information technology from a humanities standpoint in order to develop processing and analysis methods that allow us to create and use digital maps which will in turn provide pointers that lead to solutions for regional, national, and even global problems (Fig. 1).
Fig 1. Flow of research that uses digital maps
What equipment are you using, and in what types of experiments?
Research involving digital maps requires GIS (geographical information system). This involves storing information relevant to social and natural issues on maps stored in computers, and enables more thorough analysis and searches. Furthermore, GIS is also necessary in order to present analysis results in the form of easily understood maps. In addition, position information data held in GIS (latitude and longitude, for example), is known as “geo-spatial information.” An example of the use of this GIS technology is the spatial consideration of evacuation sites in Sapporo City in the event that an earthquake were to occur during the winter. More than 1.9 million people live in Sapporo, making it the fifth largest city in Japan, and for such a large city to exist in a region that experiences such large snowfall is globally quite rare. Since the mid-1990s, significant development of large apartment blocks has taken place in Sapporo, and the population has grown rapidly (Fig. 2). Using GIS to perform analysis has shown us that if an earthquake were to occur during the winter, the level of damage could be significant. If this happens, it would not be possible to use the parks because they would be covered in snow, with the result that residents would have to use indoor facilities designated by the city, such as schools and public halls, as evacuation sites when they took refuge from their homes. Inputting information about population, evacuation sites, roads, etc., into GIS allows us to estimate how many people would come to each site. The difference between the estimated number of users and the capacity of each site would indicate the potential for an overflow of evacuees. These analysis results revealed that the number of places available in each site is far too low in comparison with the number of people who would actually need to use them, and that even if people walked significant distances, many of them would not be able to find space in an evacuation site (Fig. 3). What would happen if many in this overflow were elderly people or young children, without much physical endurance? At present, the population of areas of Sapporo with inadequate evacuation sites is growing. Accordingly, we are using GIS to provide ongoing research in order to create proposals regarding how to plan anew for evacuation situations. Using GIS and information technology to provide spatial consideration provides a new approach to social problems. I, along with my students, am seeking solutions to these sorts of social problems in this department.
Fig. 2. Condominium apartments and changes in land values in Sapporo
Fig. 3. Estimated overflow population of evacuation sites in Central Sapporo
What are you aiming to do next?
The Basic Act on the Advancement of Utilizing Geo-spatial Information was passed in Japan in 2007. In the following year, the Basic Plan was established, and work began on developing a national information infrastructure. The aim of this is to create a society in which geo-spatial information is utilized at an advanced level. My department is engaged in research to this end. In particular, we are developing advanced methods of measuring position using GPS and other man-made satellites, and utilizing the basic map information provided by the Geo-spatial Information Authority of Japan. As a result, I believe we will be able to contribute to the ideal of an “all-inclusive” society.
(1) Hashimoto Y. (Ed.), Basic Theory and Applications of Geo-spatial Information, Kokon Shoin (2009)
(2) Hashimoto Y., Malaysian Economic Growth and the Asian Currency Crisis, Kokon Shoin (2005)
(3) Hashimoto Y., Regional System in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, Hara Shobo (2001)