The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11 brought death and destruction on an horrific scale to a vast area of the northeastern Tohoku region.

Some 300 km to the south, Tokyo also experienced a long and violent shake at 2:46 p.m., but it was almost entirely spared any serious consequences. Nonetheless, almost all its public transport ceased operating along with most people’s mobile phones — while road traffic was soon jammed solid.

Finding themselves plunged into this alarming new reality, around 2.6 million people in the capital opted to spend the night at work or wherever else they were, while some 6 million others decided to head for home on foot or by bicycle, often taking hours to get there, according to the findings of a survey by the Mitsubishi Research Institute.

Mayumi Hotta, who works for a film distribution company in the central Kasumigaseki district, was one of those who had home very much in mind. But, like many others living in the western Setagaya Ward, she had a long wait before she heard — around 10 p.m. — that a rail service of sorts had resumed.

So, changing from high heels to a pair of sandals she kept in the office, Hotta set off with a colleague for the nearest Ginza Line station around 500 meters away through the near-unlit streets of Toranomon. When they got there, though, the station was crammed with people, and soon afterward the rail service stopped again, Hotta told The Japan Times.

“We said to each other, ‘Let’s walk as far as we can,’ ” she recalled, “and so we headed for Shibuya.”

Neither Hotta nor her colleague had ever walked from Toranomon to Shibuya, but they only took a wrong turn once and got there in 1½ hours, which was quicker than they’d expected. But she did admit that their navigation was assisted not a little by a pocket-size street atlas of Tokyo that she always carries because she is from western Japan and doesn’t know the city very well.

Once at Shibuya — usually a neon jungle of nightlife, but dark then — the two hikers were delighted to find that the Keio Line, which also serves Setagaya Ward — was about to resume services. So finally, Hotta was able to kick off her sandals in her own home around 1:15 a.m.

As in Hotta’s case, a street map and a pair of walking shoes were the keys to a successful journey home that night for Tatsuya Nakajima, an editor at Shobunsha Publications, Inc., which publishes maps. His, though, wasn’t just any old street map.

Nakajima left his company’s office in Morishita, in Tokyo’s downtown Koto Ward, at 3:30 p.m. and headed for his house in the city of Toda, Saitama Prefecture, about 20 km distant.

Unlike the majority of inexperienced pedestrian commuters by then trudging the streets, Nakajima was well prepared, having previously walked his route while checking it against the map book he was helping to prepare for publication.

Titled “Shinsaiji Kitakushien Mappu” (“Map for Walking Home in the Event of an Earthquake”), that Tokyo street-atlas booklet designed to be used after a disaster was first published in 2005. Comprising 40 street-atlas pages covering in detail the area within the city’s Yamanote Line rail loop, and 90 pages following 12 major roads linking different parts of the city to its suburbs within a 50-km radius, the book also contains a large fold-out map of central Tokyo.

After donning a pair of walking shoes he kept in his office, Nakajima said that he first walked through Akihabara — which was crowded with others heading home on foot — he followed Hongo-dori Street to Komagome Station on the northern stretch of the Yamanote Line before finally making it to his home in Toda at 8 p.m., some 4½ hours after he set out.

“I hesitate to praise (the product I made), but the map helped me a lot,” he said.

Starting in early 2005, Nakajima and several other editors at Shobunsha spent six months making the book, which was published in August that year. Since then, it has sold more than 1 million copies, including 150,000 since March 11, according to Tomoko Okawa, a PR staffer at Shobunsha.

“People could not access online maps on their mobile phones right after the quake because telecom systems were overloaded,” Okawa said. “That’s probably why the demand for paper maps has increased and this book has sold well since.”

Concerning how to use the book, Okawa explained, if you happened to be in Yotsuya in Tokyo’s central Chiyoda Ward and want to go home to Yokohama, you look the page of Yotsuya in the first section of the book and find the route south down to Shinagawa by referring to the maps in a continuous sequence as indicated by pointers showing the page to turn to. If you reach Shinagawa, the starting point of the road named Daini Keihin, by looking at the pages in the latter half of the book you can follow the road to Yokohama.

While the top of the maps in the first section is the conventional North, the top of the pages showing major road routes is the direction of travel on that road starting from Tokyo to its outskirts, Okawa explained.

The idea for the book, she explained, stemmed from the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake on Oct. 23, 2004, which caused widespread devastation in Niigata Prefecture along the Sea of Japan and also shook areas as far away as the Kanto region where Tokyo is located beside the Pacific.

It was that event, Okawa said, that first started both the central and local governments thinking about the problems millions of people would face if transportation systems in the Tokyo halted due to an earthquake — and particularly the problems they would have getting home safely.

“When we started discussing within the company what we could do to help overcome such problems,” Okawa said, “we decided to make a street-atlas book for use after a major temblor.”

Starting from a database Shobunsha already had of detailed maps of the Tokyo area, to enhance them with useful post-quake information 10 editors split up between them the task of walking those 12 major roads out of Tokyo, noting facilities such as public toilets and drinking-water taps and potentially dangerous features such as concrete-block walls and glass-walled buildings.

Nakajima, one of those editors, was responsible for research along Tamagawa-dori Street and the connecting Kokudo 246 (Route 246) which links city-center Shibuya and Minami Machida some 27 km away in Kanagwa Prefecture to the south.

Recalling the two days he spent walking and researching that journey on foot, the editor said he found things he’d never noticed when driving. “For example, there were big advertising signs above the roads, which can break and fall on pedestrians, and such potentially dangerous sites we included on the maps,” he explained.

In addition, he said that the editors also noted such things as public benches and public telephones, as well as convenience stores and gas stations, since many have undertaken with Tokyo Metropolitan Government to provide toilets and water in case of earthquakes.

And to further enhance its utility, the book’s compilers included other useful information in its introduction, such as the fact that an average person can walk about 3 km in an hour and up to around 20 km in a day. On the maps, of course, distance markings are a key feature.

But ideally, according to Okawa in Shobunsha’s PR section, people shouldn’t wait for a major earthquake before using the book.

“We want people to simulate walking home from their workplace by using these maps,” she said. “Then in case of disaster, they can use the maps with ease after confirming through television, the radio or Internet that the routes are safe.”

Shobunsha will publish a revised edition of the book with resurveyed maps on Aug. 22. In July, a subsidiary launched an iPhone app of the map which, once downloaded, can be used regardless of the condition of telecoms systems. The app also shows your location by GPS and the direction to your destination. A version for Android smartphones is planned for September.

“Shinsaiji Kitakushien Mappu” is priced at ¥840 and the iPhone app is ¥800.

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