KOBE — The people of the Kobe area on Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which resulted in the loss of more than 6,400 lives and left tens of thousands homeless.
Although it is difficult to find visible reminders of the disaster, some survivors and local businesses are still struggling. Residents have also expressed concern that memories of the tragedy are fading.
In Nagata Ward, one of the most heavily damaged areas, a memorial Mass was celebrated at Takatori Catholic Church. At 5:46 a.m., the time when the quake struck Jan. 17, 1995, about 50 participants, including Vietnamese, offered a minute of silence.
Many Vietnamese who came to Japan as boat people in the early 1980s live in the ward and survived the quake. The Takatori Relief Center was established at the church to accommodate various volunteer activities after the quake and to aid survivors.
The Rev. Hiroshi Kanda, a priest at the church, said people should always remember the lessons learned from the sad event seven years ago.
“Soon after the quake, we thought that we would need nothing else if we could survive and that we would live by helping each other, but those feelings are fading with each passing day,” Kanda said. “We should keep remembering what we felt that day as we move forward.”
Yasuyo Tanabe, 59, whose house was nearly destroyed, said she agrees with Kanda that the strong sense of community immediately after the quake is fading.
“But I believe in people’s goodwill in the event of an emergency,” said Tanabe, who lives in Suma Ward. “Looking back, I think that we have learned important lessons, although we were very busy with just living day by day and did not have time to consider such things at the time.”
However, some people still suffer from the memories of that horrible day.
Katsumi Kawafuku, who works for a local volunteer group to support elderly people who live alone in Nagata Ward, said some people want to forget the event.
“The mass media say that we should not forget that day, and many quake-related reports appear on TV and in the newspapers,” Kawafumi said. “But some people, especially elderly people who live alone, say they do not want to remember that day, as it still inflicts emotional pain. They say they try to forget the tragedy every day, but they can’t.”
The 74-year-old Kawafuku, who lost his house, began helping senior citizens at Nagata Elementary School, where he and many other local people took refuge after the quake.
Even after quake survivors moved to temporary housing and then public housing, Kawafuku’s group has supported seniors living alone by making regular visits and responding to their daily needs. The group helps about 200 elderly in the community.
“They have a place to live, but they still need support that can be provided only by people,” Kawafuku said.
In fact, the age of quake survivors continues to be a main concern of the municipal government. According to the city, about 43 percent of the people who live in city-provided housing and who lost their homes were 65 or older as of the end of December. A third of these senior citizens live alone.
Between April and December, 35 people living alone in city-provided housing died, and 20 of them were over 65.
While Kobe’s population has almost recovered to the prequake level, local businesses have not.
Official statistics show that the population as of this month was 1,505,628, about 99 percent of the prequake figure.
However, stagnation of the economy has added to the suffering of local businesses.
Production of synthetic shoes, one of the city’s major businesses, was about 20 percent less in November than in the same month of 1994.
Mayor Tatsuo Yada told a news conference Tuesday that reconstruction of the city as a whole is almost complete.
“Although infrastructure has recovered, some welfare problems still remain to be solved,” Yada said, voicing hope that the city will achieve full recovery by 2005.
At noon, a memorial ceremony organized by the Hyogo Prefectural Government was held at an open-air site next to the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Center to be opened next month.
Jin Murai, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, and other dignitaries offered prayers.
Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido said people in the prefecture, “as survivors of the quake, should tell other people in the world the lessons we learned from the experiences, and contribute to peace and safety in the world.”