The mystery organiser behind the Quakebook Project




One of the more intriguing initiatives to emerge from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami was a book based on the experiences and thoughts of people in Tohoku and elsewhere, expressed on Twitter.  These have been recorded in a unique book.  We interviewed the Japan-based Briton who organised the project, and who prefers to remain anonymous (“Our Man in Abiko”).  The result was as follows:    

1. What brought you to Japan, and why were you living in Abiko when the disaster struck?

My wife is Japanese.  We had been living in the UK, in Derby, and decided to return to Japan in 2007.  Why Abiko? It was half-way between Tokyo and Narita airport, so seemed as good a place as any to start over.  We run a small English school from our home.

2.  What was the inspiration for Quakebook?

The idea really was from watching mashup videos on YouTube.  Particularly memorable was one "Christmas in Japan" by Fatblueman that featured bloggers all around Japan singing a line of his song.  I just thought I wish I could do that with words, and then it just seemed so simple – get everyone to write one page and I'll slap it together (I used to be a sub-editor in local newspapers – so I thought I knew how to do this) and then give the proceeds to charity.  I thought one week would be enough to pull it all together.  What could be simpler?  In the end, over 200 people around the world were involved in the project.  I was running a global publishing operation from my bedroom armed with a word processor and a telephone.  




3.  What happens to the proceeds of the book?

I, and the Quakebook team, don't touch a penny.  All the proceeds go directly to the Japan Red Cross from Amazon and our Japanese publisher, Goken.  We have also released a hardback English-only edition, available to order from any shop in the world, and we are working on getting the bilingual Japanese-English edition available as a hardback from any UK bookshop as a pay-on-demand book.  Again, no money crosses my palm, all goes via the printer (Lightning Source) directly to the Japan Red Cross.  So far, we've raised in the order of $50,000.

But to my mind, more important is the spreading of knowledge about exactly what happened on 3/11.  It was an event of enormous historical importance for Japan and for the world, and it needed to be documented.  This is what Quakebook has done. 
4.  Why do you choose to remain anonymous?

I'm just an English teacher on the outskirts of Tokyo.  I have no right or ability to lead the resistance movement to the earthquake, but maybe my online persona, an out-of-work British agent, could rally the troops.  He seemed to be the right man at the right time.  Also, I didn't want anyone to think I was doing this for self-promotion, for my school.  So far, so good.

5.  How did you get famous people involved in the project?

I don't know!  It happened through Twitter.  I used the platform to recruit folk to help me and before I knew it followers were suggesting I ask William Gibson and Yoko Ono on Twitter if they would contribute.  So I did.  I also asked Japan yakuza journalist Jake Adelstein to contribute and a follower suggested bestseller thriller writer Barry Eisler might write a foreword.  They have all been great and done what they could to promote the project.  

6.  How has the Quakebook experience changed you?

It's taught me a lot – that anyone can make a difference if you are prepared to try; that we are all connected; and that life is short, get on with something worthwhile while you can.  In that sense, it has liberated me. I have lots of ideas for new publications that, thanks to Quakebook, I know I can pull off.  So, next up I'm writing a thriller featuring the earthquake and I'm thinking about ways to mark the first anniversary of 3/11 appropriately, maybe publishing a collection of essays re-evaluating the impact of the earthquake, one year on.

7.  What could people around the world learn from the Quakebook story?

That we are in control of our own stories.  Journalism is not exclusively done by "professionals" – it's for everyone.  Have a tale to tell?  Don't sit around, tell it to the world.   

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