This is how a 50-year-old Spanish shoeshiner gave Japan its Twitter handle

Image: Reuters/Issei Kato
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Javier Castaño has worked many jobs: civil engineer, architect, graphic designer. However, after Spain’s economic downturn he began polishing shoes, and does so to this day, at the Café Central de Málaga in Spain. Javier, lovingly known by the locals as a “quirky diabetic,” has always been tech-savvy.

In early 2007, when Twitter was just under a year old, Javier joined the fledgling social network under the handle @xabel and was quick to develop the foresight as to what it could become. Seeing that strategically important geographic handles lay unclaimed and vulnerable, Javier tasked himself with grabbing what he could, protecting them, and safely delivering them to their rightful owners when the time came. These included @madrid, @malaga, @rome, @canada, @riodejaneiro, @NY, and @japan.

Much like website domain names, an underground market, while officially prohibiteddoes exist for the buying and selling of valuable twitter handles. But Javier wasn’t motivated by financial gain. He merely believed, according to a Mar. 2015 interview with website What We Think that “people everywhere need to be represented by a suitable brand.” He does admit to receiving small gifts for his donations though. The mayor of Rome sent him a book while the Principality of Asturias sent him an assortment of handicrafts and food.

By 2014, Javier’s 7-year quest was coming to an end. He had successfully donated @Madrid, @Canada, and @Rome. But @japan was proving to be problematic. A heavy bureaucracy and language barriers weren’t helping either. In 2012, Javiar managed to get in touch with Noriyuki Shikata, director of communications at the Japanese Embassy in the UK. He was about to hand over the password when, he told What We Think, “there was a change of government in Japan and everything stopped.”

But Javier remained patient. “There were some attempts to pose as institutions in order to get an account, but I was pretty cautious,” he told the Washington Post in Feb. 2015. After all, the @NY account had been stolen from him a while back.

Finally, on Mar. 10, 2015, the Japanese government officially took over the @japan account and began tweeting. They plan to use it as a tool for English information on Japan. So what happens for Javier, now that his journey has ended? He’ll continue to shine shoes until he spots the next up and coming social network, at which time he’ll put down his brush and put on his cape.

This post originally appeared at Spoon & Tamago