Monday, April 19, 2010

The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (Hanshi-Awaji Daishinsai)

I mentioned earlier about the great Earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995 - so a little more on that.

First, it is odd to find that 15 years after the quake, there are still signs of its damage in the neighborhood - below is a picture of one house that still remains untouched since the quake hit.

The quake was a magnitude 6.8 on the MMS (the 70's revision to the Richter Scale) and 7.3 based on the JMA Scale (Japan Meterological Scale). All that is to say it was a big one - the biggest in Japan since Tokyo was turned into charcoal in 1923 with the Great Kanto Earthquake. The quake struck at 5:46 AM on January 17th, 1995. The earthquake and ensuing fires left over 6,000 dead, 45,000 injured, and crippled the city's infrastructure, toppling rail lines, elevated highways, and cutting the bridge that connected Rokko Island from the mainland.

This image is from an area called Sannomiya which is the heart of the city.

A number of supposedly strong buildings toppled and pancaked in spectacular fashion such as..

the Kashiwai Building just before completely toppling into the road...

(And after...)

An view of the collapsed Hanshin Expressway can be seen here (opens in a new window)

It would be hard to underestimate the effect of this disaster on the country as whole - It undermined people's faith in the government; response to the disaster was slow, and the earthquake-proofing technologies in place proved inadequate. The total damage was 2.5% of GDP for that year, likely prolonging the effects of the recession the country was already experiencing, and it was also the end of Kobe's roll as the premiere port in Japan.
The response to the disaster has been credited with bringing about the birth of volunteerism in Japan.

Japan has always had a "uchi" and "soto" mentality (inside and outside) - if you are "inside" a certain circle, its members will go to no end to help you. But if you are "outside" a group - you are pretty screwed.

However, in the wake of the government's non-response, people from all over Japan poured in to help in rescue and clean-up efforts. Private companies with national distribution networks (read: convenience stores) stepped up to get supplies to the affected areas, and the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia, which has its largest operations in Kobe) was even seen passing out food and blankets. Since then volunteer work has become a mainstay of the culture.

A family with whom I am good friends lost a daughter in the quake and they come to the memorial in Sannomiya every year on 1.17

It's a lovely memorial, built underground and away from the noise of the city above. I will post some pictures soon if possible.

One bright spot was that to lift the city's spirits following the disaster, Kobe began a festival of lights every winter known as "Luminarie"

Words (or at least my words) can't quite describe the dazzling event, so I will just have to snap some shots next winter.


  1. Those are pretty shocking pictures, especially the one of the building falling over. It's amazing more people didn't die given the density of the population. Just what is the population of Kobe?

    Was that house the one we saw?

  2. 1.5 million give or take - and no, I think you saw a different house - I will be sharing some local pictures that the Dad snapped on the morning after in a future post