Monday, April 11, 2011

2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake

Even as the aftershocks of the March 11 Touhoku quake continued to rock Japan, a group of people came together and determined to do something in response. The Wall Street Journal chronicled their efforts, and the result is a remarkable book, called "2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake." Recorded, written, and published in just over one week, and available as of this morning, it's a stunning collection of firsthand accounts, photographs, art, and essays (including an original by cyberpunk science fiction legend William Gibson), 100% of the proceeds of which go to the Japanese Red Cross and its critical work of aiding the quake's victims. I'm very proud to have contributed the foreword, which I'm posting here in hopes it will entice more people to get involved. Please, buy a copy of the book, share on Facebook, like Quakebook on Facebook, post something about it on your blog, follow Quakebook on Twitter, tweet about it with the hashtag #Quakebook-- whatever you can do to help get out the word and help a nation and people that desperately need it. Thank you.


For me, Tokyo was metropolitan love at first sight.

It was 1992, and the government sent me for a language homestay. I got off the Skyliner at Ueno Station from Narita and that was it, I was done for. I could try to tell you why -- the energy of the place, its strangeness, the feeling of method to the madness -- but really, you might as well try to explain your first crush, your first love, the attraction of a lifelong romance. Whatever you can explain in words won't quite be it. The real connection is always too deep, too elusive, too mysterious ever to be corralled by language. The words will never get it right.

Still, if you're in love and you're a writer, you have to try. You might even create a character, say, a half-Japanese, half-American assassin, to help you:

Tokyo is so vast, and can be so cruelly impersonal, that the succor provided by its occasional oasis is sweeter than that of any other place I've known. There is the quiet of shrines like Hikawa, inducing a somber sort of reflection that for me has always been the same pitch as the reverberation of a temple chime; the solace of tiny nomiya, neighborhood watering holes, with only two or perhaps four seats facing a bar less than half the length of a door, presided over by an ageless mama-san, who can be soothing or stern, depending on the needs of her customer, an arrangement that dispenses more comfort and understanding than any psychiatrist’s couch; the strangely anonymous camaraderie of yatai and tachinomi, the outdoor eating stalls that serve beer in large mugs and grilled food on skewers, stalls that sprout like wild mushrooms on dark corners and in the shadows of elevated train tracks, the laughter of their patrons diffusing into the night air like little pockets of light against the darkness without.


At first light, the whole of Shibuya feels like a giant sleeping off a hangover. You can still sense the merriment, the heedless laughter of the night before, you can hear it echoed in the strange silences and deserted spaces of the area’s twisting backstreets. The drunken voices of karaoke revelers, the unctuous pitches of the club touts, the secret whispers of lovers walking arm in arm, all are departed, but somehow, for just a few evanescent hours in the quiet of early morning, their shadows linger, like ghosts who refuse to believe the night has ended, that there are no more parties to attend.

If my books have been love letters to Japan, this one is more an SOS. I'm both proud and humbled to be part of it, to be in a position to reach others who love Japan and long for Japan so together we can give back some of what we've received, and do something to help Japan back to her feet.


Bob said...

After growing up in NYC, I found living in South Korea to study martial arts to be quite the experience. The people were wonderful and the country enchanting.

Anonymous said...

Very touching reminesences. I have a friend, and artist that has lived there for years. Him and his wife operate a studio where they sell the pottery they make
He is worried, trying to buy a geiger counter just to see if the food they grow is edible. I've posted to my blog, and linked to this article here and to the Amazon book.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful foreward for a worthy cause. I've Tweeted a link to the collection. Thanks for putting this out there.