Author Archives: Matt

Postscript: Our Man in Abiko

A short email interview with Our Man from June of this year.

What’ve you been up to the past year?

Let’s see. For the weeks (and months) after the earthquake I promoted Quakebook as best I could and then, with my wife, got involved in direct relief efforts for folks up in Ishinomaki through freetohoku.com, which we set up for that purpose. It was an eye-opener to see people who had really suffered, victims of the tsunami.

It put into perspective much of the fretting about minuscule radiation levels in Tokyo as just so much self-absorbed bleating.

But there’s only so much a semi-anonymous blogger in Abiko can do to help and now I would recommend anyone interested in volunteering to contact (and support) itsnotjustmud.com. They are on the scene and can make a difference.

So then for me, I returned to my cover life as full-time English teacher and family man. But I still felt there was more to be said, and I still wanted to be part of saying it.

So, using the contacts made through Quakebook, I pulled together eight 3,000 word essays by folk with insights into aspects of 3/11 I thought hadn’t been given adequate coverage and released as Reconstructing 3/11 – an ebook on Amazon.

In the process, I set up AbikoFreePress.com with fellow Quakebook editor Dan Ryan, who lives  in California. Our next book due out June 21st “Hana Walker’s Half-Life 2:46″ is the story of the abduction of a half-American, half-Japanese girl, and the efforts to bring her back to her father, all happening at the time of the disasters of 3/11.

So, I’ve been quite busy.

Quite busy indeed. It seems like you’ve hardly lost any of that post-3/11 momentum you displayed during the editing of quakebook. What is it that keeps you motivated – the memory of that time, or…?

3/11 was a wake-up call that what appears permanent is actually only temporary. In which case, best stop worrying and get on with what matters now before it’s too late.

Of course, what matters can be defined in a million ways, but for me it was a realization that the world doesn’t owe me a thing, if I want my dreams, I’d best set about figuring how to do it myself, and to do it sooner rather than later. Maybe 3/11 preempted a midlife crisis, I’m not sure. But whatever it was, I stopped worrying about what the Hell I was doing in Japan, what right I had to get involved, whether my opinions were valid etc. I’m here, this is my life and writing and publishing is what I was born to do. So do it I shall.

That clarity to prioritise what’s important is the biggest legacy of 3/11 for me at least.

You were such a (the, really) integral part of Quakebook and Reconstructing 3/11 that I only just consciously realized you don’t have your own piece in either book! Though Half-Life is a novel, would you say it’s fair to say it encapsulates/reflects your feelings on the quake? More generally, what drove you to write a novel and not a non-fiction piece?

What’s fiction and what’s fact? I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but really the distinction seems arbitrary to me when you have journalists writing narrative non-fiction, like Jake Adelstein in Tokyo Vice, or novelists writing journalism, like Haruki Murakami in After the Quake. A better question might be: is it true? Is Hana Walker’s Half-Life 2:46 story true? I think so. But truth is for the reader to discern.

Watching the documentary a year-plus on, what struck you as having changed since then? It seems like the media narrative has gotten more complex, as reflected in Philip Brasor’s piece in the new book…

It was a bit like the Matrix wasn’t it, straight after the quake. The facade of the higher-ups knowing best was shattered. They knew nothing, and we knew they knew nothing.

Since then, the story has been the status quo trying desperately to paper over the cracks. I have to say, they’ve done a pretty good job. And, for the most part, Japan has been complicit in this. Understandable, we all just want to get along, the momentum for change seems to have stalled. But, hope springs eternal.

For yourself, and those around you, how have attitudes changed since then? Around me, it seems daily life has gone back to normal, but I wonder whether “normal” has been slightly altered. I’m wondering, too, whether people are going to be as willing to participate in setsuden and things as the memory of the quake fades…

Life goes on as if nothing has happened in Tokyo, because beyond a few aftershocks, life is good. But, yeah beneath the surface I think lots has changed. I know several families who have left Abiko due to fears of long-term radiation danger to their kids.

Is there the passion for sacrifice to make the changes necessary to get the economy off of nukes and fossil fuels? I doubt it. But when the time comes people do what they have to do. Japan, and other countries in the world, are no different — when there’s no choice.

If the quake is a test, is Japan passing the test?

A C- at the moment, but there’s still time to get extra credit.