Stories of people & places, festivities & traditions from my travels around the world

The 1995 Great Kobe Earthquake: a recollection

by Lucy Hornberger

A concrete wall, split by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, is preserved at the Nojima Fault Preservation Museum on Awaji Island, Japan.

It is almost dawn in Kyoto, Japan, and suddenly I'm wide awake. The glass panelled partition that divides my Japanese-style lodging room is rattling crazily, the square panels leaping in their frames. Books and papers slide of shelves onto the tatami mat floor. I've experienced several earthquakes since my arrival in Japan, and so I simply wait for it to stop, to die away as, in my experience, they always do. But this time it doesn't stop. My books slide off the shelves and then - sickeningly - the whole room seems to jerk and then slide… And always I hear the rattling of the glass panelled door right by my head.
I panic. What is it that we're supposed to do in an earthquake? Yes, I've got it - a table. Shelter under a table! But my rooms are Japanese style. I sit on the floor and my table is just 18 inches high. My heart pounds and my mind goes blank. I pull the futon cover over my head and wait.
This turns out not to be as stupid as it sounds, for eventually the rattling and shaking do die away. Downstairs the communal phone rings. In our area at least, there is little major damage.
On the other side of the city a student, having been out on the town the previous night, stirs only a little when the earthquake hits and is surprised to find what has happened when he finally wakes. But a few days later he hears that the student room he was about to move into is no longer available, given instead to someone from Kobe who has lost their home in the disaster. He urgently needs somewhere to stay, and by chance an acquaintance alerts him to the fact that there's a free room in the small lodging house where I live. My elderly landlady has never before taken a male border but, she reasons, there's a first time for everything. And that's how my husband and I met.
The Great Hanshin Earthquake
The Great Hanshin Earthquake occurred on 17th January 1995 at 5:46am. 6,434 people died, more than 40,000 people were injured and nearly a quarter of a million homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
Despite it being commonly referred to as the 'Kobe Earthquake', the epicentre was actually under nearby Awaji Island which is crossed by the Nojima Fault.
The Nojima Fault Preservation Museum is located in the Awaji City area of northern Awaji. There is also a Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum in the Kobe.
Article & photos posted April 25th, 2016

Text and photos copyright © 2016 Lucy Hornberger. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited.


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