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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Human Power

Early morning of January 17th, 1995, that was when I was woken up by a huge earthquake that struck Hanshin, south west part of Hyogo prefecture through Osaka, and Kyoto Japan.
I was sleeping in a room with a big Butsudan, a Japanese wooden shrine like cabinet, next to me.
When the earthquake started, the cabinet doors were opened so everything that was inside of Butsudan started falling over my futon, underneath of which I was sleeping.
Luckily the Butsudan itself did not fall on me, which could have and if it had, I would have been seriously injured. My parents immediately came out of the bedroom and made sure everyone was okay.  It was still dark outside, and it was cold January. 
The earthquake was measured Mj7.3
The focus was from northern part of Awaji island, near the big city of Kobe in Hyogo prefecture.
I was in elementary school, and I remember going to school that day just like a normal day except the street was quiet and there were broken glass, store signs and other things fell on the street.
Everyone was confused.  Our teacher made sure everyone was okay but she didn't know what we were supposed to do.  City of Osaka shut down all the schools that day.  We were told to go home for the possible aftershocks and stay inside to be safe.

Fortunately, the part of my city damage was minimum but the rest of Hyogo prefecture was a complete devastation.
TV kept showing the city of Kobe, surrounded by black smoke from the fire.
I remember the newscaster said if the earthquake had happened little later, during the rush hour, there would have been more people killed.  But I couldn't find that comment any help to make me feel relieved watching the burning city with thousands of people still underneath of these corrupted houses and buildings.

Our local elementary school I went to was small; each grade probably didn't even have more than a hundred students.
Just like other schools in Osaka did, our school accepted students from Kobe whose schools were destroyed by the earthquake so I remember having new classmates for a while.
People trying to get on a ship to Osaka

I heard a lot of stories of people killed by the earthquake during those times.
My mother's acquaintance' son, who was a college student in Kobe, was studying that morning when the earthquake struck.  He was killed by a chimney from a public bath house next to his apartment fell over his room and crushed him.
Some were killed by the fire, and some were missing.
Everyday I heard people died, and died, and died.
It was not something easy to forget even as a child.

It's been 19 years since the Great Hanshin earthquake happened.
I've experienced many earthquakes in Japan growing up, even on my own wedding day, but still the Great Hanshin earthquake was the biggest earthquake I've ever experienced in my life.

Now I visit Kobe almost every time I go back to Japan.  One reason is because I have my thyroid annual check up required every year.
And other reason is because Kobe is absolutely beautiful. 
I truly hope foreigners will be able to know the city has much more than its famous Kobe beef.

 from a cable car looking over the city of Kobe

The city surrounded by mountains and harbors with foreign culture (check out Kitano area in Kobe-it's amazing) always reminds me of the quote by my favorite Japanese architect Tadao Ando;
"Charms of Kobe has been supported by, above all else, deep affection of its residents towards the city."
Obviously another reason for me to go to Kobe/Hyogo is to go see Ando's architecture.
He has done many charities to support the city of Kobe and Hyogo prefecture and has planted as many as 310,000 trees.
He truly understands the importance of the city to get its life back takes human power, that is not brought by money or economy but culture and community.

To commemorate those 6,434 who lost their lives,

05:46  01.17.1995

Thanks for reading.

大 きな仏壇のある部屋で布団にくるまって寝ていた私の上に、仏壇の置物が次々落ちて来たのを覚えています。幸い仏壇は倒れてこなかったので怪我もなく、大事 には至りませんでした。私の両親がすぐに寝室から飛び出してきて家族の無事を確認すると、テレビをつけかじりつくようにニュースに見入っていました。外は まだ暗く、まだ少し眠かったのを覚えています。
ニュースキャスターが、もしもラッシュアワーにこの地震が 起きていた場合、被害は更に深刻であったに違いない、とコメントしていたのですが、焼け落ちる街を目の前にしてそのコメントは慰めにも思えませんでした。




神戸には日本に帰国する度、毎年訪れています。理由のひとつは自分の甲状腺の検診がある病院が神戸にあるからですが、 それ以上に神戸が美しい街だからです。



05:46  01.17.1995


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