STORIES FROM THE JAPAN EARTHQUAKE (BOOK REVIEW)

[ JAPAN TODAY, April 28, 2011 ]

“2:46 Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake”

By Jeff W Richards

TOKYO — I’ve never looked at strangers on the train with tears in my eyes before. As I stare back down at the phone in my hand, the 21st century contraption connects with my primal feelings. It’s hard to swallow back the grief as I read about this image:

“Here is a photograph, dated 13 March, by Kiyomu Tomita, one of the first independent journalists who entered the area after the quake and tsunami. ‘A girl huddles herself,’ he tweeted. ‘She has lost her family. In Nobiru.’”

It’s fitting that less than 30 days after being backhanded by Mother Nature, “2:46 Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake” (which has come simply to be known as #quakebook via its standard Twitter hashtag) was out and available in the most accessible manner possible: via Amazon. As a Kindle edition, once purchased, the book is shared wirelessly to any number of devices and platforms: your iPhone, your iPad, your Android, your laptop, your PC. Your whatever-you-were-glued-to-when-it-hit device.

I relive the moments, my own, as I read those shared in #quakebook. I’m surprised at the emotion that wells up in me at unexpected times. While I don’t agree with all of them, some of them break my heart. #quakebook was compiled and edited by Our Man in Abiko, an English resident of Japan and Twitter denizen whose goal simply was “to record the moment, and in doing so raise money for the Japanese Red Cross Society to help the thousands of homeless, hungry and cold survivors of the earthquake and tsunami.” He wanted to get it done within a week. With word out over Twitter and Facebook, the submissions poured in. From the idea on March 18, the completed first draft was finished by March 25.

The entries are real-time accounts, small reflections. They are offerings of hope from some with connections to Japan, such as Yoko Ono Lennon, countless overseas family members and former residents. Some are a little more abstract, such as William Gibson’s submission. There are photos. There is art. What resonates with you in this compendium is most certainly going to differ from what strikes a nerve with me. It’s personal. It spans opinions and crosses divides. There are no “flyjin” divisions here. Just accounts of how people were affected on and after that Friday afternoon in March.

It occurs to me while reading that we are still caught in it. How appropriate the title is. Each submission is part of this endless aftershock that we are stuck in at this moment: continued tremors, a sense of helplessness, economic repercussions, radiation fears and divisive opinions. We haven’t yet had a chance to process the events—to come to grips with it. Maybe this is how to start.

How do you write a review about a book that affects you so much; that was written by so many to help so many more? You don’t. All you do is tell people that it’s available. That it’s not a purchase but a gift. That 10 bucks is a meager price to donate to the people in the Tohoku area. That reading it is humbling and humanizing and uplifting, and that catharsis comes in many guises. And this book is one of them.

So there is nothing really to recommend you to do, except: buy #quakebook. And when you read it and find yourself looking at a stranger on the train, tears welling at the corner of your eye, don’t be so self-conscious and hide it. Don’t fear brothers and sisters—smile. This too shall pass.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

(Japan Today, April 28, 2011)

henri daros

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