Tuesday, March 19, 2013
There has long been a veneer covering Japan, a protective barrier that for decades has given outsiders the impression that Japanese society is proudly homogeneous and bullet-proof to the kinds of economic and social problems routinely grappled with in the West. Things like poverty and homelessness, for example. However, the earthquake and nuclear meltdown of March 11th, 2011, made the world acutely aware of just how flawed and unstable some Japanese social structures and government agencies can be.
But the aftermath of 3/11 has shown the outside world only the most obvious and recent cracks in Japan’s shiny, protective veneer. These cracks have existed for decades, in forgotten and shunned streets and neighborhoods in big cities like Tokyo. This story, Ningenkusai, is a brief pictorial account of disadvantaged men, some of them plagued by debt and alcoholism, who live in Sanya, a run-down district the Tokyo City Government does not even officially acknowledge. But this hard, sometimes seedy neighborhood does exist, and this is also the story of two foreign Christian missionaries who have been helping the men down in Sanya’s streets since the early 1980s.
This is Dan Ryan's first new piece of original photojournalism in 25 years and the Abiko Free Press is proud to publish the book as a 99-cent Kindle single, because we believe quality, independent journalism shouldn't be exclusive, expensive or inaccessible.
Click on any of the following links to download a copy of Ningenkusai to your phone, computer, tablet or e-reader from any Amazon Kindle site:
Monday, March 11, 2013
Sunday, March 10, 2013
It gives us great pleasure to see our work getting some critical acclaim in the press. Heck, just to see anyone read our books gives Dan Ryan and me a kick. But to have our first-born mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Kingston's collection of pieces on the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, is, well… humbling. The Japan Times review by Anthony Fensom is reproduced here. And stand by, fellow Abiko Free Press fans, for some more Reconstructing 3/11 news you can really use…
Two wide-ranging, informed compilations scrutinize the March 11 disasters
NATURAL DISASTER AND NUCLEAR CRISIS IN JAPAN, edited by Jeff Kingston. Routledge, 2012
RECONSTRUCTING 3/11, edited by “Our Man in Abiko” et al. Abiko Free Press, 2012
As Japan marks the second anniversary of the tragic March 11, 2011 “triple disasters,” the question remains: Did the crisis spark real reform, or has it simply been a return to business as usual?
The reformers have had much to say since that fateful Friday afternoon when a devastating earthquake and tsunami inflicted death and destruction on the Tohoku region as well as causing “Japan’s Chernobyl” at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In assisting the recovery process, it is important to seek a variety of informed views and this is exactly what the editors of two noteworthy compilations have succeeded in doing.
“Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan,” edited by Japan Times contributor Jeff Kingston, a history professor at Temple University (Japan campus), explores everything from volunteerism to social media, energy policy, Japanese history and politics in its wide-ranging review.
This is a fairly scholarly read despite the editor’s instruction that contributors write in an “accessible style” with the aim of “more definitive reports in the future.”
While the arguments may be familiar, the Japanese and other writers in Kingston’s compilation make some important contributions to the debate, which has obvious international implications.
The first lesson is the need for disaster resilience rather than trying to eliminate risk. Strict building codes, regular emergency drills and other disaster preparations saved numerous lives, but the authors also suggest improving land zoning and evacuation systems, rather than building massive seawalls that can induce complacency.
Another issue is the impact of cascading disasters, considering that Japan’s initial quake-induced blackout affected tsunami warning systems. The demographics of a particular area should also be factored into planning, given that two-thirds of those drowned were aged 65 years and above.
Communication and leadership were seen lacking during Japan’s biggest peacetime disaster. The so-called nuclear village is severely criticized over its tactics to induce public support for plant sites, a lack of transparency during the crisis and the “moral hazard” of having the industry’s safety agency sited within the pro-nuclear economy ministry.
The mainstream media also comes under fire for its lack of scrutiny. Symbolic of close media-industry ties was the fact that, on the fateful day, the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, was reportedly in China with a group of journalists, while it was some time before the Japanese media admitted a meltdown had indeed occurred.
The role of nongovernmental organizations in the disaster recovery effort is also examined, with one author criticizing reports for implying that “everyone local was a passive victim, devoid of any subjectivity, waiting to be saved.”
Continuing the same themes, “Reconstructing 3/11″ also makes some telling arguments, in a more journalistic style as reflected by the contributors.
Another compilation from the British blogger in Japan known as “Our Man in Abiko,” this work uncovers some intriguing stories, ranging from the yakuza‘s role in disaster assistance to the last man left in the “forbidden zone” and the work of volunteer groups such as It’s Not Just Mud.
Contributors Hiromi Murakami and Kiyoshi Kurokawa call for a “third opening” of Japan, following those forced by the Black Ships prior to the Meiji Restoration and the Allied Occupation post-1945. This time though, they assert the nation needs a “civil-sector-driven, bottom-up transformation.”
Critics may condemn such compilations as simply more Monday morning quarterbacking, written post-event by those seeking to push a particular cause. However, this would be doing a disservice to all involved, many of whom have a personal stake in the recovery process.
The fact that two years after the event some 300,000 people are still living as evacuees and only a quarter of homes targeted for decontamination have been cleaned shows the crisis is far from over. Meanwhile, the debate continues over nuclear energy, with nearly all the nation’s reactors still offline.
Writing in April 2011, U.S. historian John Dower is quoted describing the short window of opportunity the disaster afforded to policymakers:
“There is a moment in the history of a nation or of a society to suddenly realize what is important after a sudden accident or disaster. There emerges a space to rethink everything … But if you do not hurry, that space closes quickly.”
For Japan’s reformers, preventing another catastrophic disaster may require seizing that space, and quickly.
Anthony Fensom is a freelance writer and communications consultant.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
I'm pleased to announce that our very first print book is available. Guts Pose: Diary of a Japanese election gone bad is now no longer just a virtual book but a rather tasty 218-page 5" by 8" paperback, lovingly crafted in an easily readable font (15 point Baskerville) and features 20 original pen and pencil sketches by the author, at least half of which have never been published before, on paper or screen.
Guts Pose tells the story of the landslide that swept Shinzo Abe to power as Japan's prime minister, despite him being reviled by most voters, from the perspective of a disenfranchised foreigner trying to get to grips with life in Japan, let alone the intricacies of a political system at times as inscrutable as his mother-in-law.
It's currently available for order from Create Space at $8.99 right now and will be on sale from Amazon within a week. The digital version is on sale as a Kindle book for $4.99.
I'm very happy with the way it's turned out, and I can't wait to apply what we learnt making it to our next projects too. See for yourself:
Labels: Guts Pose
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Just a quick note to wish all a happy Year of the Snake and to fill you in on what we have planned.
We've got a number of cool projects coiled in the dark that will spring into life this year. You can expect a couple of books from Dan Ryan related to his month in 2012 of prowling the mean streets of downtown Tokyo, which we have code-named Tokyo Panic Stories, a collection of his short stories, and a collection of essays by our Man in Abiko, not to mention his second novel, before the year is out. And those are just our pet projects. We expect to add more names to the Abiko Free Press nest this year too.
And if growing our catalogue wasn't enough to keep us busy, we also plan to publish our first print books, improve our formatting, editing and cover artistry skills, and even venture outside the confines of the mighty Amazon.
Plenty for us to sink our fangs into. And you too.
Friday, December 21, 2012
We are proud to announce the publication of our sixth book, Guts Pose: Diary of a Japanese election gone bad by Our Man in Abiko, which chronicles the least anticipated, most uninspiring Japanese campaign since the war, that somehow created the biggest landslide victory in recent times for the most hated party of recent times. But more than that, the diary is a daily slice of life of a foreigner living in Japan trying to learn the ropes and make sense not only of his corner of the world, but also why his dead father-in-law's TV wakes him up at 7am.
Based on his Japan Election 2012 Diary live blog, Guts Pose features a previously unpublished afterword by Our Man and foreword by Michael Cucek, MIT research associate and renowned blogger on Japanese politics.
"I can easily say that with my current life completely focussed on such issues, Our Man's blog has become far and away the most important insight for me into this election over trillions of supposedly well-informed other sources. I'm now checking for it daily."—Craig Scanlan
Where you can buy Guts Pose: Diary of a Japanese Election.
Labels: Guts Pose
Friday, November 2, 2012
Our Man in Abiko's second essay published by Abiko Free Press, Chairman Mouse: A Tokyo Disneyland North Korea Fantasia, is now available from Amazon via our bookstore here. It's a tongue-in-cheek look at the uncomfortable parallels between Tokyo Disneyland and North Korea, tracing the interweaving history of the two magic kingdoms and their affect on culture. OK, and a little ranting against the excesses of Disneyfication.
For a free excerpt from Chairman Mouse, visit Our Man in Abiko's blog here.
Labels: Chairman Mouse