The Association for Interpretation, Japan

Koji Furuse (Representative Director of Association for Interpretation Japan, Professor at Teikyo University of Science)
The Association for Interpretation Japan
Tools Used
Open Data Kit

Note: In Dec 2018 Google announced that it would be retiring Fusion Tables.

Digitize wildlife recording for better nature experiences

Nature centers play a crucial role in collecting, organizing and visualizing data in nature, and they educate their visitors on how important their surrounding nature is. With the help of Google technologies and Open Data Kit, we can not only complete our tasks more efficiently, but we can also team up with other nature centers in other regions to share and analyze accumulated data. This will certainly help us discover those things that might have been invisible otherwise. Then we can utilize them to improve our exhibitions and guide programs in ways that would help provide better nature experiences for our visitors.

Koji Furuse, Representative Director of Association for Interpretation Japan

The Association for Interpretation Japan is an organization which aims to spread the concept of nature interpretation, improve this educational activity, and ultimately contribute to society. Taking place in nature parks, museums, and other social education activities, nature interpretation is an experience-oriented and locally-focused communication method, which is meaningful, educational and enjoyable. For these purposes, the organization trains nature interpreters, networks with others, and conducts research and development in this field. Mr. Koji Furuse, Representative Director of the Association for Interpretation Japan, says that improving the quality of the exhibitions and nature programs held by nature centers across Japan will help raise people’s awareness toward environmental conservation and sustainable society. Therefore, he’s currently leading an initiative to use Open Data Kit and Google Fusion Tables at several nature centers, with the aim of making wildlife monitoring more efficient and improving the way information is presented.

Located in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, the nature center “Nasu Heisei-no-mori Forest” displays a range of information which reflects their regional environment and the changes of the seasons. Their exhibitions are designed in a way that helps their visitors learn about basic information on the area before taking a walk around.

How they did it

Exhibitions and guide programs display information from the nature center’s daily wildlife monitoring work. Therefore, it’s important to gather the latest information about the surrounding environment, and organize and analyze it afterward. However, nature centers have been facing an issue: they have to complete a wide range of tasks, and not every center is well-staffed. Team members usually write down what they have observed in their own notebooks or reports on paper, and they are too busy to organize, compile and share their data.

At many nature centers, team members write down their daily wildlife observations on paper, and then enter their data into their PCs (or leave them on paper).

Mr. Furuse wanted to improve on the way nature centers monitored wildlife with technology, so he attended a Google Earth Outreach hands-on workshop that took place in May 2016, where he learned about Open Data Kit and Google Fusion Tables. He soon realized that these services would be a great solution to that issue and that nature centers could collaborate and share their data with one another. After the workshop, he began testing Open Data Kit and Google Fusion Tables with people from Yamano furusato mura Visitor Center (Okutama, Tokyo) and Nikko National Park Nasu Heisei-no-mori Forest (Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture).

With Open Data Kit, you can record your observations of living things on the spot, including their pictures and locations. Then, all the information goes to Google Fusion Tables, so you can complete your tasks a lot more quickly. All these efforts will help build a meaningful network in the future.

Koji Furuse, Representative Director of Association for Interpretation Japan

Using mobile devices and Open Data Kit, nature center staff recorded their observations of living things (including their pictures, names, types, and conditions). Location information is automatically captured by GPS. You can customize the form to collect just the information you need.

Google Fusion Tables helps visualize wildlife recording on Google Maps. You can have a bird's-eye view of the data and analyze the changes in data distribution, which would be useful in uncovering hidden trends.


Note: In Dec 2018 Google announced that it would be retiring Fusion Tables.

With Open Data Kit, Yamano furusato mura Visitor Center has been making steady progress in collecting a wide range of data in their surrounding environment. Mr Sakata, one of the interpreters at the nature center, talks about how effective Open Data Kit and Google technologies are and how excited he is about them. “Mapping has become so easy, which reduces the amount of desk work considerably. It’s amazing that our data are connected to Google Maps. We also have debriefing sessions with other nature centers on a regular basis. Previously, we were just presenting our reports respectively, but in the near future, I hope we can all share our data with one another and collaborate on some projects. I see a great potential in this.”

Wildlife recording is categorized by color into “Mammalians”, “Birds”, “Plants”, “Insects”, etc., and appear on Google Fusion Tables. As of now, they have recorded about 600 different pieces of information.

Wildlife recording can be displayed as a panel. The way information is presented keeps improving.

Moreover, Yamano furusato mura Visitor Center functions as a base for fieldwork for students from the Department of Animal Science at Teikyo University of Science, where Mr. Furuse teaches. As part of his class, he has used Open Data Kit with his students. In Autumn 2016, Masaki Shimada, Associate Professor at Teikyo University of Science, also led a fieldwork activity, in which about 50 students conducted two wildlife monitoring projects around the center.

As of now, roughly 600 different pieces of information have been gathered around the nature center. The previously collected data are being entered into Open Data Kit, making an impact on the exhibitions and guide programs held at the center.

Nasu Heisei-no-mori Forest is one of the leading nature centers in Japan, and vigorously conducts nature interpretation activities. The nature center has currently been working on the digitization of daily wildlife observations, applying the outcomes to their guide programs. Furthermore, the center has been receiving more and more inquiries from some residents in Nasu regarding the frequent appearances of Asian black bears in their areas over the past few years. Mr. Migita, one of the Interpreters at the center, says that it might be possible to find something new or in common by collaborating with other nature centers in the neighborhood to accumulate observation data of those moon bears with Open Data Kit. This can not only help the residents stay away from the bears, but it can also encourage re-thinking more deeply about the relationship between human beings and nature. If you know how to treat those bears, they might actually not be that dangerous.

Mr. Migita using Open Data Kit to record moon bear’s claw marks on a beech tree.

Mr. Migita recording trace information of moon bears around his nature center.

If the digitization of wildlife recording reaches more nature centers as a network, we will be able to capture nature information around each center in real time. Then we can look into other regions and compare them with ours. This will certainly help us improve the quality of information we provide. I'd like more people to enjoy visiting nature centers. We should work toward this goal.

Mr. Furuse

Team members considering how accumulated data can be applied to services they offer by looking over the relief map of their nature center.

Learn more at:
Open Data Kit tutorials
Association for Interpretation Japan