Editor’s note: The author of this annotation translated this book into English in April, 2011, while an undergraduate at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

prayforjapan.jp. PRAY FOR JAPAN: 3.11世界中が祈りはじめた日. 講談社, 2011.

Purei fō japan dotto jēpī. PRAY FOR JAPAN: santen’ichiichi sekaijū ga inorihajimeta hi. Tōkyō: Kōdansha, 2011.

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, the volume of messages sent and received by Japan’s 20 million Twitter users spiked 500% to over 5,000 per second. That night, a 20 year-old Keio University student Hiroyuki Tsuruda (@mocchicc) began to catalog some of these messages on the website www.prayforjapan.co.jp. The site went viral immediately, receiving six million hits in the first week. In response to the project’s popularity, on April 26, Kōdansha published Pray for Japan, a collection of roughly seventy messages from the website, in Japanese and parallel English translation, alongside photographs of solidarity from around the globe. Sent by users in the disaster zone, around Japan, and abroad, some messages are personal anecdotes of kindness or interactions with strangers on the day of the disaster; others users simply affixed notes of hope and encouragement with the #prayforjapan hashtag in the hope that it would reach someone in need of comfort. Although Pray for Japan shares the attribute of being a Twitter-sourced book with the English-language Quakebook project, all of the messages in Pray for Japan were written in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and quoted directly from user’s Twitter feeds. The editors contacted the users afterwards and gained the permission to publish the messages. In this sense the book is a valuable primary source, and to my knowledge the only book of its kind published in English.

Pray is Japan is but one of several Twitter projects related to the disaster, a fact that demonstrates the significant role the social networking service played on 3/11. As phone lines were overwhelmed and traditional media grappled with the enormity of the disaster, people turned to their smartphones and computers to make contact with loved ones and get information about the conditions on the ground in Tōhoku and Tokyo. In the days afterward, Twitter became a place for strangers to share their thoughts and feelings as people struggled to make sense of the events. Because everything posted on Twitter is automatically in the public domain, popular tweets spread far beyond individuals’ social circles through the practice of “retweeting.”

Although it contains only a selective collection of the millions of messages sent about the disaster, Pray for Japan is a valuable compilation of a new genre of primary source material, documenting what took place on Twitter on and after 3/11. The book also exemplifies how social networking can enable strangers such as Tsuruda and the international group of volunteers that worked to translate the site into a dozen languages to collaborate to produce more lasting contributions to public discourse than fleeting 140-character messages. Selling for 1,000 yen, the book became a bestseller in Japan, with sales in excess of 70,000 copies, and has been used as an English learning tool by several schools in Nagoya. Royalties totaling three million yen as of July have been donated to the Hatachi Fund of the Nippon Foundation. A digital version of the book, with the messages in Japanese, English, and other languages, will be released as an iPad/iPhone app by the end of the year.

– Sam Holden

In February, 2012, Pray for Japan became available worldwide as an iPhone/iPad app in six languages, which may be useful to teachers and students wishing to learn about 3.11 via Japanese language classes.

BOOK: Pray for Japan (2011)
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