An Interview with Anime & Manga Bloggers For Japan

Posted by Linda Yau on Mar 21, 2011 in Fandom |

Japan Earthquake

Anyone paying attention to Asian news these past several weeks would have realized that a devastating triple threat has happened in Japan. On March 11, 2011 around the Northern east coastlines of this island nation, there was a strong earthquake that resulted in devastating tsunamis, and what is now the concern of Japan in controlling a nuclear incident around its nuclear plants. Every day checking certain tweets on Twitter, there is an official notification of how much casualties there has been, with also thousands of people displaced or suffering. This incident has caused casualties and victims that surpass Japan’s Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Japan needs an incredible amount of money or resources in order to rebuild. So many people around the world, celebrities, or civilians have banded to join up the cause of fundraising and donating time or money for Japan relief. The better option in other countries, out of Japan, of course is to send money to charity foundations to supply aid.

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There are so many stories, charities, and fundraising occurring, yet at this point that I wish to point out a project that has been near to my concern. This is the Anime and Manga Bloggers For Japan. Donating specifically to Doctors Without Boarders, and Shelterbox, this group and fundraising efforts were started by Daniella Orihuela-Gruber of All About Manga, and later assisted on the website from Michael Huang of Anime Diet. I was able to quickly contact these two individuals, and interview them via email, on what is their background, feelings, intentions, hopes, or thoughts that surround this particular fundraising group.

First up is my interview with Daniella.

Where were you when the Earthquake happened?
I was at home when the earthquake happened, possibly writing a blog post at the time.

How did you feel when you heard that the Earthquake occur?
At first, I wasn’t feeling much, just wanted to know that everyone was OK. It was only after we started hearing just how large the earthquake, with the effects of the tsunamis expected that I started getting REALLY worried. And then I was absolutely terrified for the people of Japan.

What motivated you to start this fundraiser?
I have a long history of charity work, actually. Ever since I was little and started traveling abroad with my mother, we’ve taken clothing, school supplies and various other things to people in the third world countries we visit. So when the tsunami struck and I saw all these villages get obliterated on live television, I was feeling extremely frustrated that I was in between paychecks and couldn’t donate myself. Since my career, my blog and a lot of my personal hobbies revolve around Japan, I wanted to help Japan somehow. A few days later, I met my mother for lunch and she mentioned she was raising money to run a Jewish senior center in Cuba. The conversation reminded me about how easy it is to find people who want to give to people in need. So then, I asked my Twitter feed if they were willing to contribute and started Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan that evening.

Have you been keeping up to date with the news on Japan in general?
Twitter has pretty much been my constant news source. There were tons of people RTing news from Japan, translating Japanese news broadcasts and news feeds. I became disgusted with foreign coverage early on when, as the tsunami happened, a news program on network television cut to a story about Charlie Sheen. @MariKurisato in particular has been an excellent person to be following. She’s been RTing updates from all sorts of places. (Although she suggest people not follow her after the quake news begins to die down as her twitter account is a lot different.)

What was the motivation to choose Doctors Without Boarders and Shelter Box over Red Cross or any other charities?
My mother actually used to work for Red Cross and a number of other non-profit organizations. She got out of that line of work because she was disgusted with how much money they took for “administrative costs” to the point where the people who were supposed to receive these donations got nothing. Therefore, the Red Cross was never an option for Anime & Manga Bloggers for Japan. Because of her experiences and the charity work I’ve done before, I’ve learned it’s best to just give directly to people in need. I decided on Doctors Without Borders and Shelter Box because those were two organizations that would be providing things that would be needed after large earthquakes and tsunamis. Plus they were already on the ground or close to it when I decided to start Anime & Manga Bloggers for Japan.

Doctors Without Borders was an obvious choice because there are numerous people who might be injured from the disasters, might need close medical care or will develop illnesses because of the poor living conditions. A single Shelter Box provides a tent, thermal blankets, a stove/heater, a water filtration system, tools and much more. Those are all things the survivors could use right now and so it just made sense to give money to a charity that was telling us exactly what they were giving to people in the disaster area.

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Shelterbox relief


Since there has been so many other fund raising choices? Would you happen to know what motivates people to choose this fundraising group over the others?

I don’t know what exactly causes people to donate to my fundraiser over others. Some seem to be sprinkling their donations across all the good causes they find, some might have been moved by my initial post about wanting to give back to the nation who has given us so much joy through their entertainment media and culture. Maybe, for some, they just finally found something they wanted to donate to or started feeling guilty enough to dip into their wallets. Some people really just want to feel good about donating. What motivates them isn’t my business so much as it’s my business to encourage them to donate without totally guilt-ing them into it.

I’ve had plenty of people apologize for not donating more, but those people shouldn’t feel bad. Even the smallest donations mean something, like spreading the word to others who can donate means something. Just how one person won’t be able to fix the entire world’s problems, one donation will not be able to help everyone, but a lot of donations will help lots of people bit by bit! Plus, I’m not going to look down on someone who donated elsewhere. What’s the point? Hopefully they didn’t give to an organization that takes more of the money than it gives back, but they did their part and donated where they felt comfortable donating.

I see that there are trackers on the website, are you kept up to date and exactly with how this fund is being used for relief?
The charities are not keeping me personally informed of what every dollar that we raise goes to. I dare say they’ve got plenty of more important things to do. Shelter Box did send me an e-mail that said that the money donated to Shelter Box at this time would be used to restock their supply bases that sent boxes to Japan. Whether those restocked boxes will also be sent to Japan, I don’t know, but at least they’re keeping supplies at the ready in case another disaster hits and they’re honest about it. Both charities do run regular news feeds to keep donors up-to-date about their actions in Japan and other areas they are deployed. Doctors Without Borders or Shelter Box. It’s best to follow those in order to get a clear idea of what the donations are going towards.

How successful has this fund raising been?
Well, we made $1000 in less than 24 hours. Donations dropped off a bit after that, but two days later, we reached our initial goal of $2,000. I’d say that’s pretty successful for a small internet fundraiser that’s just been using social media and blogs to promote its cause. A lot of other fundraisers have events going on, whether they be podcasts or live events, so it’s understandable that they’re raising more. And like I said before, every little donation counts. I’m not jealous that other fundraisers have gotten more dollars than we have, it’s all going to the same place, hopefully. I wouldn’t mind emulating their methods to try and get more donations though.

How long do you intend this drive to go on until?
I’m not sure how long Anime and Manga Bloggers For Japan will last. At first I thought a good stopping point would be when people stop freezing and starving in shelters. But we could probably go beyond that and donate money to help them rebuild their houses and their livelihoods. Maybe I can run a group to Japan, through my mother’s travel business, to send people to Japan to rebuild. I’ve also considered opening up a third avenue to donate to pet rescue charities since the Japanese have a high percentage of pet ownership, but I haven’t been able to act on it yet.

Are there any other comments you would like to share?
What else can I say? Some of my previous comments may seem harsh, but I believe in having a very realistic and responsible approach to charity. The whole concept of charity doesn’t work if you don’t address the needs of who you want to give to and chose the fastest way to give it to them. At the same time, passion is needed. I started Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan because the news I was hearing shocked me to my core and I just needed an avenue to help somehow. I wanted to donate, but couldn’t. (I eventually did make a donation when a paycheck came in.) As I remembered how much Japan has meant to me in the last 10 years, especially in the last two years where it allowed me to have a career in something I’m passionate about, my feelings began to intensify and donating just wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to do the next best thing to hopping on a plane to Japan and handing out food at shelters myself. So now every donation that comes through makes me excited and those are the little high points of my day. Less energy goes towards feeling depressed about the situation Japan is in and more goes into doing something to change that situation. It’s a very empowering feeling, I can recommend it to anyone who is still feeling incredibly depressed over the tsunami.

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Now is my interview with Michael, who has provided the webspace, banner design, and other social media presence of this fundraising:

Where were you when the Earthquake happened?
I heard the news when I had just settled in my hotel room in Austin, TX for the South by Southwest Interactive festival.

How did you feel when you heard that the Earthquake occur?
I have to admit I was sanguine about it at first—Japan has lots of earthquakes and is pretty prepared for them. There had been a 7.2 magnitude earthquake a few days before that done any real damage. But then the news on Twitter about the tsunami came out, and I saw the horrifying footage of the waves swallowing entire towns whole…I was in a state of shock, and sadness. How could I enjoy the festival when something of such shattering significance was going on? I spent much of the first day of SXSWi obsessively checking news sites and Twitter on my phone and not being at peace for a while. It got to the point I had to resolve to stop during the day.

How did you get involved in this fund raising site?
When I awoke the morning of March 15th—the last day of SXSWi—I saw Daniella’s post about “Anime and Manga Bloggers For Japan” on allaboutmanga.com. Being a web developer/designer, and having heard so many workshops about web usability and design at SXSWi, a conviction rose within: there was no better time to apply the skills and gifts that I had received here and put them to a worthy cause. It felt like it was not only in the spirit of charity and goodwill, but also in the spirit of SXSWi itself: it’s a place full of people who believe in the potential of the web for good. I wanted to participate in that spirit I sensed in my time at the festival.

I immediately thought “this post could be a site,” with buttons, banners, Twitter and Facebook links, and many of the other promotional and social tools that my years of administering Anime Diet had taught me. I wanted to spread the word not only among manga bloggers but also the vast network of anime bloggers that I’d made, and to make it easy as possible to donate. Plus, I noticed it was already picking up steam throughout the day, so I knew, there’s real traction behind this. So as soon as I could, I emailed Daniella and made the proposal (around 10 AM CST/Austin time), made some banners in the afternoon, and spent the last evening of SXSWi working on the site. I was in a rush because I was relying on my iPhone 4’s tethering capability to get Internet, and I’d forgotten to bring my phone cord from my hotel…the first iteration of the site was a little rough around the edges but it was functional and simple. Time was of the essence. The site went live at around 11 PM CST. Since then, I’ve been mostly involved in the technical aspects of the site and doing whatever promotion I can, using the connections and networks I’ve built up for Anime Diet and other places. It’s definitely a joint project, and many hands of pitched in with the Twitter account, the news blog, and the banners among others.

Have you been keeping up to date with the news on Japan in general?
Yes, I have, though I try to filter out the sensationalism and fear-mongering from many of the mainstream American press. The nuclear story is getting top billing, somewhat understandably but in an overblown way, while the humanitarian crisis in northern Japan remains under reported: food supplies are dwindling, there is little gas left to transport supplies, etc. There are also so many inspiring, hopeful stories of the patient, resilient spirit of the Japanese people, too. That’s why I wanted to start the news blog on the bloggers4japan.com site, to highlight the aspects of the story that had often been forgotten.

Since there has been so many other fund raising choices? Would you happen to know what motivates people to choose this fundraising over the others?
The anime and manga blogging communities are communities of very devoted fans who love Japanese pop culture. These are not average people; we have a closer connection to the Japanese than many in the Western world, I feel. We are also among the most tech-saavy people on the planet, and the combination of tech knowledge, social networks, and a concern for Japan makes efforts like bloggers4japan.com and others much more likely to succeed than more abstract appeals from large organizations. These are fellow fans and writers, who share the same interests.

Do you know the reactions of other anime fans, when they hear of this fan and other fund raising?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I am astonished, and pleased, at just how fast the news about bloggers4japan.com has spread, and how quickly the money has been raised—$2500 in just 4 days! The people I have appealed to and spread the news to have been more than willing to spread the word and give of their money and even time—so many have come forward to volunteer on various aspects of the site. This is such an inspiring example of how fandom, which I know can sometimes be fractious, can come together for a good cause, and it gives me so much hope.

What is an opinion that you may have for people to chose this charity over the other choices out there?
The charities Daniella chose—Doctors Without Borders and Shelterbox—are already on the ground in Japan, unlike many aid organizations like the American Red Cross. They are offering real, concrete help in the affected areas, right now. There’s an assurance that the money donated is going directly to the effort, rather than a large bureaucratic aid organization. Moreover, these particular charities are directly addressing the most pressing needs in northern Japan right now—namely, the need for warm shelter, supplies, and medical assistance. People are dying in the existing shelters due to a lack of heat, and food is dwindling. Shelterbox and Doctors Without Borders are helping to meet the most immediate physical needs in the short term. Other organizations may be able to help in the reconstruction—though Japan is a rich country and can definitely do much of that on its own too—but these two groups are helping, now.

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How did you get the inspiration for the website’s banner?
Funny story: the original version of the banner actually not only included a map of Japan but also Noizi Ito’s now famous sketch of Haruhi Suzumiya praying for Japan. I felt that it had become a potent symbol of the crisis and its response from the anime/manga community, but we decided after some reflection that we shouldn’t use others’ artwork without permission. So I made the banner without that artwork, though I kept the same yellow background color that was intended to blend with that sketch. It still looked really good, and at this point, I’m not even sure if we need the sketch anymore! (Though if we do get permission, I’d definitely be willing to put it back on.

Are there any further goals with this fund raising? (I previously asked Daniella, for her opinion on how long will this drive go on.)
Daniella is a better person to ask about that. Personally I wouldn’t mind it going on for quite a long time, and perhaps even down the road as the situation changes, the charities might change. I also see the news blog and twitter lasting a while as the news does not necessarily stop when the mainstream media finally fixes its gaze elsewhere. And who knows: this solidarity that’s formed across the blogosphere is something that could be a wonderful thing to apply to other things than the immediate crisis in Japan. We’ll see.

Are there any other comments you would like to share?
You don’t have to be an anime/manga fan, a blogger, or an anime/manga blogger to take part in this. You just have to be a human being. I encourage everyone who is able to give.

…After reading these two insightful interviews, have you definitely feel the need to perhaps choose a charity to donate to? Consider this or you cans as Daniella said, pick and choose. But the most important thing is a concern for the well being, and rebuilding of a nation, that many fans or bloggers hold dear. Not just for the materialistic objects, but the simple fact that human suffering, tragedy is something that must be alleviated any way that is within our means to provide in.

Linda Yau is a fan of Japanese culture, and various anime/manga titles. She is a freelance writer and editor under her own name or animemiz. Her main blog is here and she can be contacted by Twitter.

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