Quakebook: 'Alone, we are nothing, but together, we can rebuild society'

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By Martha Kang

After a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, he couldn't help but feel helpless.

He was safe in an area of Japan that was not directly affected. But after hearing about the devastation and the victims in northeastern Japan, he wanted to do something to help.

"I can't help people medically. I can't fly a helicopter. I can't do much of anything. But I can edit and I can tweet. So I did," said the Briton only known by his Twitter handle, @OurManInAbiko.

He put out a call on Twitter, asking for first-hand accounts of the tragedy. He got two responses in the first hour, 74 by the end of the day. When he'd received 85, "I just had to draw a line," he said.

"It was a simple idea, but I knew it was good," he added. "It was just the right idea at the right time."

He then scouted the help of other editors and translators, and began editing what would eventually become "2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake," or "Quakebook" for short. The entries tell the story of the tragedy and its aftermath from the viewpoints of victims, eyewitnesses and sympathizers.

"As an old man with an old wife, I've put up with a lot this week. But it's nothing compared with the lives of those staying in shelters," wrote one contributor named Grandfather Hibiki. "To be honest, it has not been comfortable for people aged over 80. Lining up for hours to get water or do some shopping chills us from the tips of our toes up and gives us back pains. But seeing young mothers of small children patiently waiting for their turn and the impressive qualities of young women who use just a calculator to total up the bills for many customers' shopping, gives me the strong conviction that this country will not break under these circumstances."

"Nobody in my hometown will evacuate. Why? What's more, they took in people evacuating from the town next-door, so now they feel they can't evacuate themselves and leave those people behind," wrote Yuki Watanabe of Tamura, Fukushima. "What is the government doing? Don't they care about the people in Fukushima?"

The book even includes entries by Yoko Ono, William Gibson and Barry Eisler. But the man behind Quakebook says it's not any one entry but rather the collection of them that conveys the deep and wide impact of the tragedy.

"I think what stays is the sense that what happened at 2:46 (p.m. on March 11 when the quake hit) affected the world, not just one place. That is clear in the book," he said. "This was an incredible moment in time that had to be recorded for the future."

Quakebook recently became available as an e-book on Amazon.com. It sells for $9.99, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to Japan Red Cross.

"Some say, 'Why bother with the book? Why not just donate cash to the Red Cross?'" said @OurMainInAbiko. "By all means, do that, but the book has value as a record of a momentous event in history, told from the point of view of the people most affected."

Since its release, Quakebook has ranked as high as fourth on Amazon's non-fiction bestseller list.

"Quakebook has taken on a life of its own, which is beyond my hopes for it. People have really responded to its message, which is that alone, we are nothing, but together, we can rebuild society. All it takes is a few good people to care and act," said the man behind the book. "In crisis, you can choose how to respond, either selfishly or selflessly. Quakebook appeals to our better side."

The Japanese version of the book is nearing its completion, and German, French, Spanish and Chinese versions are in the works.

There is also talk of publishing a hard copy of Quakebook, but no firm dates have been set.

"Buy the book, people," the man said. "Buy it. It makes a difference."

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@OurManInAbiko has not released his identity to the media. When asked about his identity, he gave the following five reasons on why he'd rather stay known only as "an Earl Grey drinking silhouette":

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Editor's Note: Martha Kang's interview with @OurManInAbiko was conducted via Twitter. Read the highlights

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