Tag Archives: #quakebook

Hana Walker’s Half Life 2:46 by Our Man in Abiko

I consider myself lucky to know Our Man in Abiko and was proud to be part of the team he assembled to put #Quakebook together, containing stories of the Great East Japan Earthquake, before signing up again for light editing duties on the Abiko Free Press’s attempt to assess what had changed for Japan since those catastrophic events: Reconstructing 3/11. As the Man mentioned in his review of my own book about Japan and earthquakes, The Teas That Bind, it is incredibly difficult to be honest about a friend’s work. So why trust anything I write about his latest book, Hana Walker’s Half Life 2:46?

I may be a slight bit biased but to miss out on this fantastic story because of such fears would be a shame. By Chapter 4, as our hero Hana hurtled towards the seventh dirtiest lake in Japan, trapped inside a Mercedes with a lecherous hoodlum, I was hooked. Reading the book on my phone for the final seconds before work, or burning the candle late into the night to finish the last few chapters, testifies to the gripping nature of Hana’s quest. It takes her far from her Abiko home to find schoolgirl Emi Blackmore, missing in Ishinomaki in the North of Japan, on behalf of Emi’s estranged and distraught father, while getting some disgruntled gangsters off her back and trying to come to terms with her own chequered family history.

Hana’s mission is realistically located in the Japan residents will recognise as the one they sometimes love to loathe, peopled by less-than-helpful bureaucrats, crabby ramen shop grandmas and inept English teachers, bedevilled by mama-charus, noisy pachinko parlours and daytime cooking shows. Tatami mats, onsen, 100 yen stores and ‘nihongo jouzu’: it’s all here. American tourists wear cowboy hats, the yakuza exude menace, and so life for the characters is proceeding in its almost-usual channels as the clock ticks around to 2:46pm on 11 March 2011.

The recreations of that day are note-perfect and will be recognisable to everyone who was in Japan. Interspersing tweets with the story shows characters reacting to real news events and sharing darkly humorous catalogues of exactly what in the kitchen had smashed, just as we did. Half Life has plenty to say about the nature of belonging and nationality, about Japan and her relations with the world, in parallel with the occasionally thorny paths of father-daughter relationships, both real and surrogate. There is more to learn here – about conventions on punctuality, how blood type determines personality, that wallets can be left anywhere to be handed in later with cash intact, Japan’s unique and distinct four seasons and what always happens to the nail that sticks up – than from any etiquette guide. The cosy government, yakuza and TEPCO culture that contributed to the disaster at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant is likewise illuminated.

Yet all this is covered without once detracting from the fast-paced tale of Hana’s attempts to find Emi, escape the police and the bad guys, while avoiding getting framed for murder or eaten by kittens (yes, really). And the serious moments never detract from the humour of what is at times a real caper – the bicycle scenes providing exactly the right mix of comedy and suspense – because our Hana is no suave detective, perhaps with more of Philip Marlowe about her than Lisbeth Salander.

In The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler writes, ‘down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.’ Abiko’s streets may be less mean than the City of Angels’, but in desperate times, Ms Walker displays those same qualities. Hints have been dropped regarding a sequel, which is fortunate, as with Hana around Japan is sure to remain what Chandler called ‘a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in’.

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‘ebooks are democracy in action’

Creative force behind Quakebook, Reconstructing 3/11 and the Abiko Free Press, Our Man in Abiko is interviewed here about his thoughts on ebooks, publishing, crowdsourced journalism and, er… cats. All very Haruki Murakami.

In amongst the cat jokes though, there are serious points made about that thorniest of questions for all who love books – both writing and reading them – where do we go from here? It is perhaps too soon to say what this bold new publishing dawn will herald, but if you are interested in the kind of quality insight that newspapers once used to provide, this interview will provoke some intriguing thoughts.

My recommendation for a well-spent Sunday would be to check out the interview and then be sure to grab your copy of whichever of these cracking reads you are yet to buy.

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No Kindle required

Recently, I have been plugging the heck out of three great ebooks:

  1. Quakebook
  2. Reconstructing 3/11
  3. The Teas that Bind

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Since the launch of my own ebook last weekend, it seems that the question that has been on everyone’s lips is ‘when’s the print version coming out?’ It may be that the love of having pages to turn will win out over the new technology. If that is the case – well, I can understand. A little piece of my heart will always prefer the scratch of nib and smell of ink to tapping things out on a keyboard or smartphone.

But if you think you might like this whole ebook thing, you’re just not sure as you don’t own a Kindle, rest assured, there is no need to buy one. Amazon has a free app that you can download for PC or Mac, which will allow you to read ebooks on any computer. The type is large, there is no need to scroll down the page and it looks rather lovely. Although initially resistant to the idea of anything not involving actual paper, I downloaded mine to view Quakebook and have been pleasantly surprised by how much I have enjoyed using it since.There are some useful functions, especially for non-fiction books like these three – such as highlighting text and using hyperlinks – that make life a little easier than pencil margin notes.

So, as it’s a rainy weekend, I can recommend downloading the application and charging it up with these three cracking reads.

Don’t delay!

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Reconstructing 3/11

Reconstructing 3/11 is live.

But what is Reconstructing 3/11 all about, you might ask?

The team that brought you #quakebook has come together to launch a new type of journalism. Nine contributors with special insight into areas of Japanese life crucial to the reconstruction efforts following the triple disasters of 11 March – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident – have written in-depth articles sharing their knowledge.

This is not a charity effort. This is not about fundraising. This is not #quakebook 2.0.

Yet it is a great read, available for download here, an essential purchase for anyone curious about the challenges Japan is facing and keen to support quality writing. If #quakebook is the future of fundraising, could this be the future of publishing? Buy a copy today and find out…

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The Teas That Bind

My new book is available for download!

Surviving earthquakes, one brew at a time.

The book comprises posts written for ten minutes hate since the Great East Japan earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, along with emails, tweets and status updates sent over the last year. There are photographs – some you may have seen before and some exclusive to this book – along with plenty of new material about what happened on the day, how fundraising efforts came together for #quakebook and how I became a volunteer with It’s Not Just Mud in Tohoku.It is my attempt at answering the question ‘what was it like?’

Copies of the e-book are available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Please don’t worry if you don’t have an e-book reader – you can download a free application from Amazon to read it on any computer, or Smashwords can make it available for you as a PDF. If you really can’t do without pages to turn, then – never fear! – a print version is on its way.

My thanks to all the talented people who have helped me make The Teas That Bind look and read as well as it does. I hope you enjoy the book!

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‘The most photographed anonymous man in the world’

I got a really lovely thank you from the #quakebook team, despite only doing something very simple to help with the publication of an interview with Our Man in Abiko in the Embassy of Japan in the UK’s newsletter.  Take a look at the link for some additional information about how it all came together.

Let me also take the opportunity to gently nudge you towards the fact that this gorgeous book is now available in an array of snazzy electronic versions, as well as a pretty delectable bilingual Japanese and English print edition.  That’s right, a real book that you can hold in your hands and turn the pages of, just like in the old days.

And in case it needs saying again, 100% of your money goes to the Japanese Red Cross Society, to be added to that which has already been donated.  With winter drawing in across the north of Japan there is still a real need for assistance in the areas affected by March’s quake and tsunami.  So please, if you haven’t already, grab a copy of #quakebook today.

Arigatou gozaimashita!

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Imagining the future

Even in a normal year, a lot of news can happen in 10 days.  Unfortunately for someone with intermittent internet connection, 2011 has been far from a normal year, so the last 10 days have seen almost too many events to process.  The US debt deal was cobbled together at the 11th hour, a flat-out Mubarak went on trial in Egypt and things took a further turn for the worst in the Horn of Africa as sensitivity-deficient columnist Liz Jones was sent to cover the disaster by the Daily Mail.

With the attention being constantly prodded in the manner of a TV remote control button by a bored viewer – Libya! America! Syria! Greece! Egypt! Britain! Somalia! – one country which doesn’t like to shout too loud might have slipped from your field of vision.  Yet help is still needed for those living in Japan’s 2,559 evacuation centres as the five-month anniversary of the earthquake approaches.  That their lives have been altered forever is beyond doubt, but how to make a new start remains unclear when the basics are lacking.  Temporary housing is slowly being built, but water supplies are contaminated and the economic future of many small towns is uncertain.  While survivors such as Jun Suzuki are hopeful that they can rebuild:

I wish I can stay in my hometown.  This is where I was born.

Such hopes may not be easily realised.  The affected areas of Japan were not in a position of strength even before the earthquake, as outlined by Christian Dimmer, an urban design specialist, in this article on Imagining an Alternative Future for Japan.    He notes that,

the Great East Japan Earthquake hit hundreds of kilometers of coastline in mostly rural regions with a population of nearly 7 million, 22% of whom were older than 65.

Even before the catastrophic events of March, many of the younger inhabitants of the area had left for jobs and study in Tokyo, leaving the traditional economic bases of agriculture and fishing diminished.  For some communities, rebuilding may prove an impossible task.  Many may never recover.  For others, the immediate need to provide temporary solutions may crowd out attempts to plan for long-term survival, as it is understandably impossible to try to imagine the future when you are living day-to-day.

Faced with such huge questions, alongside so much additional trauma being inflicted worldwide, it is easy to feel powerless.  However, an alternative view is that many of these problems are the result of a delegation of too much responsibility to politicians and vested interests.  If we are going to find a way around them it will take billions of small efforts, made by each one of us, to try to change our futures for the better.  This is something I want to give more consideration to on ten minutes hate soon, so please let me know what you think in the comments below.

In the meantime, you can also donate to projects like Quakebook, which are supporting the work of the Japanese Red Cross to assist those living in the disaster areas.   The DEC page for donations to East Africa is here.

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Well Red magazine Issue 8

What a year it has been for Liverpool Football Club.  Ditching two managers, one sometimes loved, one universally loathed.  Jettisoning two feckless owners with the assistance of unlikely heroes in the form of investment bankers.  In the process beating threats of administration, the likely docking of essential points and a potential relegation from the top division for the first time since Bill Shankly got us there in 1962.

At times it has seemed like the football was getting in the way of the off-pitch shenanigans, while Liverpool fans were desperate to get their club back and return to the important business of chasing title number 19. King Kenny being returned to his throne has done much to shift the club’s trajectory and restore the smiles to players and supporters alike.  At the start of the season I couldn’t have dreamed that we would be where we are now, building for what should be our best shot at success for decades.

The optimistic atmosphere is reflected in the latest issue of Well Red, the independent supporters’ magazine.  Issue 8 is out now and contains commentary from journalists, fans, website owners and bloggers on where the club goes from here, as well as interviews, opinions and features – making it a must-read for all Reds.

And I would be saying that even if I hadn’t contributed an article for this issue!  I was lucky enough to able to write about the friendship that has grown between Japan and LFC in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake, as well as helping to promote Quakebook to Well Red readers…

With the bilingual print edition of the fundraising book now available and this fantastic magazine on newsstands, that should be all your reading needs covered until the Premiership starts again on 13 August.  And you will be much better informed than if you sit glued to the Sky News or Sky Sports News ticker tapes!

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Jishin-yoi: the feeling of earthquake drunkenness

It usually starts with a jolt.  If walking or standing, I notice the ground beneath my feet start to move, or if sitting I feel it along my spine.  I brace myself for what is coming, look up at the light switch to see if it is moving…

… but nothing.

Check Twitter but there are no messages saying ‘quake!’ or, as we have got used to them and levity has crept in, ‘first!’  No reports from the Meteorological Agency announce an aftershock has been recorded.  If there are other people around, my friends or students or coworkers, they do not seem to have noticed anything amiss.  I shrug my shoulders, try to escape the sense of unease and get back to whatever it was I was doing.  It must have been what I have started to think of as another ‘ghost aftershock’.

So I was perhaps gladdened, perhaps saddened to read this story from the Tokyo Times today.  On the one hand, it is nice to know that I am not going completely insane, that this is a recognised side-effect of being somewhere shaky.  As a Liverpool lass, I am also reassured to discover that this feeling is shared with sailors returning home after a long sea voyage.

The sadness comes from realising that, as with so much of the post-quake effects, however bad it is here, others have it so much worse.  A slight sense of giddiness every now and then is nothing compared to those in Northern Japan who have suffered panic attacks, fevers, vomiting and falling down, in addition to the many other physical and mental hardships they have had to endure.

Earthquake drunkenness will, I suspect, go away given enough time.  A recent visit to Kyoto, which sits on a different plate to Tokyo, saw the ghost aftershocks disappear completely for the duration of my stay.  Yet there are many serious problems affecting Tohoku for which people can’t wait for time to do its healing work, instead, help is needed much sooner.

So please, grab yourself a copy of #quakebook while I grab myself a glass of something fine and single malt-like.  It may not be strictly orthodox medical advice, still I reason, if you are going to be affected by ghost drunkenness, you might as well try to chase it away with the real kind!

Whisky glass and bottle on my desk, with postcard of ship at the Pier Head, Liverpool

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#Quakebook news

Exciting news from @quakebook that not even this morning’s heavy rain could dampen:

Yes, you read it right!

The bilingual print version will be available to buy in Japan from 14 June, for around ten of your English quid.  What an excellent excuse for organising a trip over here, or alternatively you could contact someone lovely who lives in the country to get a copy in the post for you!

Pre-orders are available here.

If you already are in Japan, there will be an evening of Quakebook-themed revelry and fundraising on Friday in Shibuya, all details here.

Hope to see you there!

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