Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial, Kobe

Ikasumi ventures outside of Tokyo to honor the city of Kobe. This week (17 January, 5:46 AM) will mark the 11th anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. More than 6400 lost lives and 40,000 injuries resulted. Guide books focus on the city’s admirable recovery, and indeed if one just walks around looking superficially one will see a vibrant city with few indications of the relatively recent tragedy. Talking to even a few people, however, reveals a different story. Memories of the lost loved ones and friends remain fresh, and the economic effects on individuals persist (many are paying two mortgages - one for the destroyed home and one for the replacement, without help from the government). Still, the resilience of the Japanese people was as strong as ever, and more than one million people volunteered for relief efforts. At this museum one can, through virtual reality, get a small yet harrowing taste of what the earthquake felt and looked like. Even more powerful, though, is the opportunity to talk with local survivors and hear their stories. One is forced to think of the effects such a quake would have in far larger and denser Tokyo. The question is not whether this will happen, but when.  
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