Japan's earthquake tweet by tweet

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: There's been on outpouring of emotion in Japan this month, many emotions, and most of them were not translated. Aya Watanabe is a professional translator, for the past few weeks she's been working with a Tokyo based blogger who's compiling some of the most poignant tweets out of Japan.

AYA WATANABE: I contacted this blogger Gen Taguchi the day after he earthquake hit, and I think it was the day when he started sending out these tweets. And it just touched my heart, to the core. And I think I was one of the many, many people who had been so shocked and devastated and we needed something to give us hope.

WERMAN: I mean it's interesting; Twitter really became this almost indispensible communication device after the tsunami and earthquake. In fact, I read that Twitter use increased, in just the few days after the earthquake, by a third. That's enormous.

WATANABE: It is. And it's been really helpful to all of us. I was not in the affected area of Tohoku but I was getting so much information out of Tweets, rather than any other media that I was able to reach.

WERMAN: Well let's just pick a few of the Tweets here. I mean this first one that I saw was actually about Twitter, this writer says, ââ?¬Ë?I could not use phone and text message but Twitter was just working. I believe it was much more useful than the special installed phone number to contact people', the 171 which is their 911 version, ââ?¬Ë?I believe many re-Tweets supported someone's heart'. Which is pretty extraordinary. And here's another one which is also very poignant and not about Twitter, this is from a woman who was taking a mass transit, she says, ââ?¬Ë?Transport facilities were dead and I was so tired waiting so long, then a homeless guy gave me a cardboard saying use this it can warm you up. I used to pass homeless people by even when they were begging although what he did to me was such a sweet stuff'. Really, really moving. Maybe you can tell us some of your favourite Tweets.

WATANABE: Sure. One of my favourites is one that had been posted quite recently and it's called ââ?¬Ë?Mom's pep talk'. It goes like this, ââ?¬Ë?I called my Mom to let her know I survived the quakes. She lives in Kagoshima, on Kyushu Island, a thousand miles south of Tohoku. I thought she was worried about me and wanted to calm her down. Instead of tears, what I got from her was a pep talk. ââ?¬Å?Son, know with all your heart, the meaning of your being where you are, at this timing and age in your life. Do the best you can to serve others.ââ?¬  Mother, I am proud to be your son. I will live through all this.'

WERMAN: That is an incredible pep talk, I mean, it sound like one of those pieces of life advice. Just on a practical matter, our listeners are going to say that's ay more than 140 characters, but these are written in Japanese characters so you can actually sum up a lot more things into a character, right?

WATANABE: Yes. And also this is a Tweet that I translated and I added a few words, like where Kagoshima is, because I just imagine that people who are reading this in English would not really know where Kagoshima is and that the mother lived a safe place, where as the writer of this Tweet did not.

WERMAN: There seems to be such a big translation gulf between Japanese and English that's exposed at a time like this. I mean there's so much we haven't grasped, but with these translated Tweets it feels less distant somehow.

WATANABE: I'm so happy to hear that because that is exactly why I wanted to translate these Tweets coming directly from people in Japan, to really connect all of us. Because it's something unfiltered, well obviously filtered by us translators in a way, but other than that it's totally direct. And I think this is what kind of gives me passion as a translator.

WERMAN: Reading and hearing you read, some of these Tweets, I mean even though these events have only happened a few weeks ago, it already feels like a moment in time that's passed, like a time capsule. Which seems to be taking the lead right now, generosity and goodwill, or frustration and impatience?

WATANABE: I think it's still both. Initially I think there was more generosity but yes, we have been seeing more impatience and frustration. And especially because of the nuclear threat.

WERMAN: Aya how long are going to keep translating these Tweets coming out of Japan?

WATANABE: Well, I would say as long as these Tweets get collected by this blogger Gen Taguchi.

WERMAN: Aya Watanabe thanks for speaking with us, very good to talk to you.

WATANABE: Thank you Marco, pleasure to speak with you.

WERMAN: And you can read some more translated Tweets from Japan at theworld.org, and you can hear more from translators and linguists in our weekly podcast ââ?¬Ë?The Word in Words', that's at theworld.org/language