President of Hokkaido Chizu Co., Ltd.
“The name of our company is Hokkaido Chizu (Map) Co., Ltd., but we produce maps on a national level with the highest standards of beauty and accuracy in Japan. We are entrusted with creating government maps and are the No.1 mapmaker in Japan…well, maybe that is a bit of an overstatement. Still, we are one of the leading companies in the industry.”
Hokkaido is a victim of the deflation economy and is stagnating. However, within the chilly economy of Asahikawa is 51 year-old Kazuhi Akiyama, President of a local corporation that presses forward while focusing on the global market.
Mr. Akiyama is a graduate of Chuo University who was appointed as President of Hokkaido Chizu just last year.
Together with car navigation systems
Hokkaido Chizu was founded approximately 60 years ago in 1953. Originally, the first President of the company was a land surveyor who worked with government agencies such as prefectural offices and the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau. During the course of his work, the President felt dissatisfied with the lack of accuracy in antiquated maps that were older than even blueprints. He decided to reform such inaccuracies and began creating maps.
Afterwards, the map industry in Japan grew rapidly due to the government policies of land improvement and agricultural land improvement, as well as to the periods of high economic growth and the bubble economy. Hokkaido Chizu expanded its sales greatly due to the implementation of car navigation systems.
“Pioneer was the first company in Japan to implement a car navigation system. Our company worked together with Pioneer to create maps. Car navigation systems are certain to sell in areas where cars sell. Our company has also made car navigation systems for Hong Kong. In the future, we plan to undertake the processing of map data for Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia.”
In consideration of the strengths and weakness of a medium-sized corporation, Mr. Akiyama has decided against conducting local surveys which consume great amounts of time and labor. Hokkaido Chizu obtains data from other companies and then processes that data to create maps. In Hong Kong, only luxury vehicles are equipped with car navigation systems, so the systems are a status symbol for their owners. The industry is truly a well-kept secret in a fast-growing country with increasing numbers of the wealthy class. Still, the secret to success is found in know-how that cannot be gained overnight.
Company as an unseen stagehand
Mr. Akiyama describes his company as an unseen stagehand. In other words, Hokkaido Chizu provides behind-the-scenes assistance to companies that use maps to conduct business. Although Hokkaido Chizu provides map data to countless corporations all throughout Japan, the company hardly ever receives recognition.
“Our company focuses solely on providing map technology and mapmaking know-how,” says Mr. Akiyama confidently as he describes the path of his company. “I hope that we will continue to be entrusted with such work in the future.”
“Our company strictly seeks to be a partner business. We have many technical staff, but a small number of salespeople. We search for partner corporations that will sell the map data which is our forte. For that purpose, we create maps with high accuracy and visual quality. Our goal is for Hokkaido Chizu to be the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of maps.”
Mr. Akiyama’s vision is just like the maps his company makes-accurate and clear.
Everyone is like a regular player in games
Although Mr. Akiyama joined the ski club after first entering university, he quit after one year. He quit because, in the case of serious club activities, only front-line athletes were able to participate in tournaments.
Mr. Akiyama wanted to find an activity where everyone could participate. Together with a friend from his home town, he started a sandlot baseball team by recruiting Chuo University students who lived in Chofu City.
The name of the team was the Chofu Legion.
Unlike normal sports clubs, every member was able to play in the games as a front-line player. Their opponents were usual adult teams such as drivers from Keio Taxi.
Mr. Akiyama overcame generation boundaries to interact with adults and build a personal network. He spent his time at university with friends who shared the motto of participation by “everyone”. By chance, this spirit of participation is a major element which is linked to Mr. Akiyama’s current life.
System for proposing reforms
The concept of a sandlot baseball team can be found in the current system for proposing reforms at Hokkaido Chizu. Mr. Akiyama describes how he spreads the idea of simple written proposals for reforms among employees.
“Nobody would be able to write a complicated form. For that reason, I have worked to create a simple form that can be easily written. There are only 3 elements. After writing a title, you simply write 1) where the problem currently exists, 2) what should be done to fix the problem, and 3) what kind of results will be achieved. I tell my employees that this format can be used to make proposals of patent technology.”
Mr. Akiyama’s way of thinking is extremely clear.
Put simply, it is necessary to lower hurdles in order to gather a sufficient number of parameters. It is unacceptable to start by seeking the development of new technology. First, it is necessary to start by greatly increasing the number of parameter and having everyone participate.
“The gathered proposals are evaluated by engineers and salespeople. The evaluations are disclosed on the company intranet. For proposals which can actually be used, we conduct a Reform Proposal Presentation to give out awards and monetary prizes.”
Mr. Akiyama’s concept of a sandlot baseball team can be found today at Hokkaido Chizu.
For First Call Company
“Our company has always been an expert in government maps. I feel that we can be of special assistance in times of earthquakes.”
Although one year has already passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11th, the shock of the disaster is still fresh in the minds of most Japanese people. Particularly striking was the nuclear commotion following the earthquake and the slow response of the government. SPEEDI and other maps showing the spread of radiation have the record of being used not only in Japan but also brought in from overseas. These maps crated further uneasiness among Japanese citizens. Amidst such circumstances, Mr. Akiyama took action immediately after the earthquake and posted on his company’s homepage maps of radiation levels in the Tohoku region around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, as well as maps which showed the scope of the tsunami.
“I received data showing the spread of radiation levels and the tsunami from an expert university instructor who is a friend of mine. Our company then combined this data with our maps to create the maps that we posted on our homepage. We got a great amount of access. We also used a 3D printer to create a 3D topographical model of coastal areas struck by the disaster and then provided this model to governments free of charge. At the time, we were just looking for some way to help. Also, immediately after the earthquake we made maps of scheduled blackouts. These maps were segmented by color and I think that they were useful for reference. Since we often cooperate with government agencies and research institutions, our company is skilled at such work. Everyone was in difficult circumstances due to the disaster and we wanted to provide information as quickly as possible. In such cases, the work of creating government maps is a form of social contribution in itself.”
Mr. Akiyama’s company has the motto of “For First Call Company.”
Due to its form as a company based on partnership business, Hokkaido Chizu is positioned very close to society. The company motto is rooted in the hope that Hokkaido Chizu will be the first company called upon by the public for assistance.
“I want Hokkaido Chizu to be a familiar company that immediately comes to mind whenever someone has trouble with a map. To achieve this goal, we must win trust by increasing our accuracy and quality.”
Currently, Hokkaido Chizu has a total of 85 employees, consisting of 60 engineers and 25 salespeople. Even today, this mid-sized corporation continues to hold a noble spirit and focus on mapmaking for the world.
Born in Higashikawa Town, Hokkaido Prefecture in 1961. After graduating from Hokkaido Asahikawa Higashi High School, graduated from the Department of International Economics at the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University in 1984. After 6 and a half years of employment at Asahikawa Shinkin Bank, transferred to Hokkaido Chizu Co., Ltd. Assumed the positions of Executive Director and Vice-President at Hokkaido Chizu before becoming President in 2011. Hokkaido Chizu is currently working to spread the concept of “Geopark,” a phrase made by combining the words “geo” and “park.” Currently, the company is creating bird’s-eye view maps (3D maps) of various locations in order to contribute to inbound tourism as a tourism-oriented country in the future.
*Geopark is a park that enables visitors to experience the earth and have fun studying by looking at the ground and nature. As of January 2012, 20 regions in Japan have been certified as a Japan Geoparks. 5 of these regions are certified as Global Geoparks and are registered in the Global Geopark Network that is supported by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).