Former librarian Gen Yamazaki fixes his eyes on a map he found in the stack room at the National Diet Library in Tokyo in 1981.

It shows Hachioji, a city on the outskirts of Tokyo, outlined in red.

The 86-year-old Yamazaki knows the red markings indicate areas burned down in U.S. air raids in the final days of World War II, and his mind is cast back to the hardships he and others suffered at that time.

He was born the third of four sons in a family running a small restaurant in the Tokyo neighborhood of Koishikawa. As the family business became increasingly hard to sustain, Yamazaki took a daytime job in the daytime while at night attending a junior high school.

When he was 15, he took a job at the now defunct Imperial Library in Tokyo’s Ueno district. As part of his work he would lead visitors to the basement whenever an air-raid warning rang out.

Tokyo was hit by massive U.S. air raids early on the morning of March 10, 1945. When Yamazaki arrived at the library for work that day, he saw trucks dumping a large number of bodies on nearby streets.

“I was scared numb,” Yamazaki recalls. “I only recovered my emotions and began to cry when I saw a doll placed next to a dead baby.”

The Yamazaki family and others in Koishikawa were bombed out of their homes two months later. They fled to the nearby Koishikawa Botanical Garden amid unbearable, suffocating heat from houses burning nearby.

Although the Yamazaki family survived, they had to endure abject living conditions as their home had been destroyed. Yamazaki lost his grandmother and father following the end of the war and gave up his dream of attending day school.

While working as a librarian to support his family, Yamazaki became involved in the peace movement, “for the souls of people killed in the war,” he says.

Coming across the map 36 years after the end of the war thus had special significance for him even though so much time had passed.

Yamazaki later learned that it was part of a national damage mapping project initiated by the government for the benefit of soldiers and civilians being repatriated to Japan, whose biggest concern was whether their families and hometowns had survived.

The map of Hachioji ended up with documents donated to the National Diet Library by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan in 1966, said Junko Suzuki, 76, a board member of the Japan Cartographers Association and a former colleague of Yamazaki’s at the library.

Yamazaki thought the damage maps should be collected and made public as important reference materials for the wartime period. Suzuki, who remembered the massive U.S. air raids, agreed.

The pair set out to find other maps and found most of them on a shelf in the basement of the then Health and Welfare Ministry building. They also learned that the geospatial authority had kept others, which were later donated to the Diet library. The authority operates the Science Museum of Map and Survey in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Most of the maps are 40 by 55 cm in size. While downtown areas of Tokyo are daubed in red, the location of the Imperial Palace remains white — showing that the U.S. military avoided attacking it.

Masahiko Yamabe, 70, senior researcher at the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, praises the work done by Yamazaki and Suzuki as it helps understand the aims of the U.S. air raids.

Meanwhile, Yamazaki hopes that young people will see the discovery of such maps as a “milestone” toward peace and a “lesson” about the misery of war.

“There should never be another situation where maps are red-lined,” he said.

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